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Bulletin 195 







Taunlon, Massachusetts 




For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office 
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The scientific publications of the National Museum include two 
series, known, respectively, as Proceedings and Bulletm. 

The Proceedings series, begun in 1878, is intended primarily as a 
medium for the publication of original papers, based on the collections 
of the National Museum, that set forth newly acquired facts in biology, 
anthropology, and geology, with descriptions of new forms and re- 
visions of limited groups. Copies of each paper, in pamphlet form, 
are distributed as published to libraries and scientific organizations 
and to specialists and others interested in the different subjects. The 
dates at which these separate papers are published are recorded in the 
table of contents of each of the volumes. 

The series of Bulletins, the first of which was issued in 1875, con- 
tains separate publications comprising monographs of large zoologi- 
cal groups and other general systematic treatises (occasionally in sev- 
eral volumes) , faunal works, reports of expeditions, catalogs of type 
specimens, special collections, and other material of similar nature. 
The majority of the volumes are octavo in size, but a quarto size has 
been adopted in a few instances in which large plates were regarded 
as indispensable. In the Bulletin series appear volumes under the 
heading Contributions from the United States National Herharlum, 
in octavo form, published by the National Museum since 1902, which 
contain papers relating to the botanical collections of the Museum. 

The present work forms No. 195 of the Bulletin series. 

Alexander Wetmore, 
Secretary^ /Smithsonian Institution. 




Introduction ix 

Order Passeriformes 

Family Sittidae: Nuthatches ._ 

Sitta carolinensis cookei: White-breasted nuthatch 


Distribution 1] 

Sitta carolinensis carolinensis: Florida nuthatch 12 

Habits 12 

Sitta carolinensis nelsoni: Rocky Mountain nuthatch 14 

Habits 14 

Sitta carolinensis aculeata: Slender-billed nuthatch 17 

Habits 17 

Sitta carolinensis tenuissima: Inyo nuthatch 19 

Habits 19 

Sitta carolinensis alexandrae: San Pedro nuthatch 20 

Habits . 20 

Sitta carolinensis lagunae: San Lucas nuthatch 21 

Habits... 21 

Sitta carolinensis mexicana: Mexican white-breasted nuthatch 21 

Sitta canadensis: Red-breasted nuthatch 22 

Habits 22 

Distribution 33 

Sitta pusilla pusilla : Brown-headed nuthatch 35 

Habits 35 

Distribution 41 

Sitta pusilla caniceps : Gray-headed nuthatch 42 

Habits 42 

Sitta pygmaea pygmaea : Pygmy nuthatch 44 

Habits . 44 

Distribution 46 

Sitta pygmaea melanotis : Black-eared nuthatch 47 

Habits 47 

Sitta p3'gmaea leuconucha: White-naped nuthatch 54 

Habits 54 

Sitta pygmaea canescens: Nevada nuthatch 55 

Family Certhiidae: Creepers 56 

Certhia familiaris americana: Brown creeper 56 

Habits 56 

Distribution 68 

Certhia familiaris nigrescens: Southern creeper 71 

Certhia familiaris montana : Rocky Mountain creeper 71 

Habits 71 

Certhia familiaris albescens : Mexican creeper 72 

Habits... 72 


Family Certhiidae: Creepers— Continued Page 

Certhia familiaris zelotes : Sierra creeper 73 

Habits 73 

Certhia familiaris occidentalis: California creeper 76 

Habits 76 

Certhia familiaris leucosticta: Nevada creeper 79 

Family Chamaeidae: Wren-tits 79 

Chamaea fasciata phaea: Coast wren-tit 79 

Habits 79 

Chamaea fasciata rufula: Ruddy wren-tit 80 

Habits 80 

Chamaea fasciata fasciata: Gambel's wren-tit 81 

Habits 81 

Distribution 93 

Chamaea fasciata intermedia : Intermediate wren-tit 94 

Chamaea fasciata henshawi: Pallid wren-tit 94 

Habits 94 

Chamaea fasciata canicauda : San Pedro wren-tit 95 

Habits 95 

Family Cinclidae : Dippers 96 

Cinclus mexicamis unicolor: Dipper 96 

Habits 96 

Distribution 112 

Cinclus mexicanus mexicanus: Mexican dipper 113 

Family Troglodytidae: Wrens 113 

Troglodytes aedon aedon: Eastern house wren 113 

Habits 113 

Distribution 139 

Troglodytes aedon parkmanii : Western house wren 141 

Habits 141 

Troglodytes aedon baldwini : Ohio house wren 146 

Troglodytes brunneicollis vorhiesi: Apache wren 146 

Habits 146 

Troglodytes troglodytes hiemalis : Eastern winter wren 148 

Habits 148 

Distribution 158 

Troglodytes troglodytes puUus: Southern winter wren 161 

Troglodytes troglodytes meligerus: Aleutian wren 161 

Habits 161 

Troglodytes troglodytes kiskensis: Kiska wren 163 

Habits 163 

Troglodytes troglodytes alascensis : Alaska wren 163 

Habits 163 

Troglodytes troglodytes tan agensis : Tanaga wren 168 

Habits 168 

Troglodytes troglodytes petrophilus : Unalaska wren 169 

Habits 169 

Troglodytes troglodytes semidiensis: Semidi wren 169 

Troglodytes troglodytes helleri: Kodiak wren 170 

Troglodytes troglodytes stevensoni : Stevenson's winter wren 170 

Troglodytes troglodytes pacificus : Western winter wren 170 

Habits 170 


Family Troglody tidae : Wrens — Continued Page 

Thryomanes bewickii bewickii : Bewick's wren 176 

Habits 176 

Distribution 180 

Thryomanes bewickii altus: Appalachian Bewick's wren 183 

Thryomanes bewickii cryptus: Texas wren 183 

Habits 183 

Thryomanes bewickii eremophilus: Baird's wren 186 

*Habits 186 

Thryomanes bewickii calophonus: Seattle wren 188 

Habits 188 

Thryomanes bewickii atrestus: Warner Valley wren 191 

Thryomanes bewickii marinensis: Nicasio wren 191 

Habits 191 

Thryomanes bewickii spilurus: Vigors's wren 192 

Habits 192 

Thryomanes bewickii drymoecus : San Joaquin wren 197 

Habits 197 

Thryomanes bewickii correctus: San Diego wren 198 

Habits 198 

Thryomanes bewickii nesophilus : Santa Cruz wren 199 

Habits 199 

Thryomanes bewickii catalinae: Catalina wren 199 

Habits 199 

Thryomanes bewickii leucophrys : San Clements wren 200 

Habits 200 

Thryomanes bewickii char ientur us : Sooty wren 20 1 

Habits 201 

Thryomanes bewickii cerroensis : Cedros Island wren 202 

Habits 202 

Thryomanes bewickii brevicauda: Guadalupe wren 202 

Habits 202 

Thryothorus ludovicianus ludovicianus : Carolina wren 205 

Habits 205 

Distribution 215 

Thryothorus ludovicianus burleighi: Burleigh's Carolina wren 216 

Habits 216 

Thryothorus ludovicianus miamensis: Florida, wren 217 

Habits _' 217 

Thryothorus ludovicianus lomitensis: Lomita wren 218 

Habits 218 

Heleody tes brunneicapillus couesi : Northern cactus wren 219 

Habits 219 

Distribution 231 

Heleodytes brunneicapillus bryanti: Bryant's cactus wren 231 

Habits 231 

Heleodytes brunneicapillus aflBnis : San Lucas cactus wren 233 

Habits 233 

Heleodytes brunneicapillus purus : San Ignacio cactus wren 234 


Family Troglodytidae: Wrens — Continued Page 

Telmatodytes palustris palustris: Long-billed marsh wren 235 

Habits 235 

Distribution 238 

Telmatodytes palustris griseus : Worthington's marsh wren 241 

Habits 241 

Telmatodj'tes palustris marianae: Marian's marsh wren 242 

Habits 242 

Telmatodytes palustris waynei: Wayne's marsh wren 246 

Telmatodytes palustris thryophilus: Louisiana marsh wren 246 

Habits 246 

Telmatodytes palustris laingi: Alberta marsh wren 247 

Habits - 247 

Telmatodytes palustris iliacus : Prairie marsh wren 248 

Habits 248 

Telmatodytes palustris plesius: Western marsh wren 259 

Habits 259 

Telmatodytes palustris paludicola: Tule wren 26 1 

Habits 261 

Telmatodytes palustris aestuarinus: Suisun marsh wren 264 

Habits 264 

Cistothorus platensis stellaris: Short-billed marsh wren 265 

Habits 265 

Distribution 274 

Catherpes mexicanus albifrons: White-throated wren 276 

Habits 276 

Distribution 277 

Catherpes mexicanus conspersus: Canyon wren 278 

Habits 278 

Salpinctes obsoletus obsoletus: Common rock wren 284 

Habits 284 

Distribution 291 

Salpinctes obsoletus guadeloupensis: Guadalupe rock wren 293 

Habits 293 

Salpinctes obsoletus tenuirostris: San Benito rock wren 295 

Family Mimidae: Mockingbirds and thrashers 295 

Mimus polyglottos polyglottos: Eastern mockingbird 295 

Habits 295 

Distribution 314 

Mimus polyglottos leucopterus: Western mockingbird 316 

Habits 31() 

Dumetella carolinensis: Catbird 320 

Habits 320 

Distribution 348 

Toxostoma rufum rufum: Brown thrasher 351 

Habits 351 

Distribution 372 

Toxostoma rufum longicauda: Western brown thrasher 374 

Toxostoma longirostre sennetti: Sennett's thrasher 375 

H abi ts 375 

Distribution 377 

Toxostoma cinereum cinereum: San Lucas thrasher 377 

Habits 377 

Distribution 38 1 


Family Mimidae: Mockingbirds and thrashers — Continued Page 

Toxostoma cinereum mearnsi: Mearns's thrasher 382 

Habits 382 

Toxostoma bendirei : Bendire's thrasher 383 

Habits 383 

Distribution 389 

Toxostoma curvirostre palmeri: Palmer's thrasher 389 

Habits 389 

Toxostoma curvirostre celsum: Plateau thrasher 398 

Habits 398 

Distribution 399 

Toxostoma curvirostre oberholseri: Brownsville thrasher 400 

Habits 400 

Toxostoma redivivum redivivum: California thrasher 402 

Habits 402 

Distribution 410 

Toxostoma redivivum sonomae: Sonoma thrasher 411 

Habits 411 

Toxostoma lecontei lecon tei : LeConte's thrasher 411 

Habits 411 

Distribution 418 

Toxostoma lecontei arenicola: Desert thrasher 419 

Habits 419 

Toxostoma dorsale dorsale: Crissal thrasher 420 

Habits 420 

Distribution 425 

Toxostoma dorsale trinitatis: Trinidad thrasher 426 

Habits 426 

Oreoscoptes montanus: Sage thrasher 427 

Habits 427 

Distribution 433 

Literature cited 437 

Index 461 


This is the sixteenth in a series of bulletins of the United States 
National Museum on the life histories of North American birds. 
Previous numbers have been issued as follows : 

107. Life Histories of North American Diving Birds, August 1, 1919. 

113. Life Histories of North American Gulls and Terns, August 27, 1921. 

121. Life Histories of North American Petrels and Pelicans and Their Allies, 

October 19, 1922. 
126. Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl (part). May 25, 1923. 
180. Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl (part), June 27, 1925. 
135. Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds, March 11, 1927. 
142. Life Histories of North American Shore Birds (pt. 1), December 31, 1927. 
146. Life Histories of North American Shore Birds (pt. 2), March 24, 1929. 
162. Life Histories of North American Gallinaceous Birds, May 25, 1932. 
167. Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey (pt. 1), May 3, 1937. 
170. Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey (pt. 2), August 8, 1938. 
174. Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers, May 23, 1939. 
176. Life Histories of North American Cuckoos, Goatsuckers, Hummingbirds, 

and Their Allies, July 20, 1940. 
179. Life Histories of North American Flycatchers, Larks, Swallows, and Their 

Allies, May 8, 1942. 
191. Life Histories of North American Jays, Crows, and Titmice. January 27, 


The same general plan has been followed, as explained in previous 
bulletins, and the same sources of information have been utilized. 
The nomenclature of the 1931 Check-list of the American Ornithol- 
ogists' Union and supplements has been followed. 

An attempt has been made to give as full a life history as possible 
of the best -known subspecies of each species and to avoid duplication 
by writing briefly of the others and giving only the characters of the 
subspecies, its range, and any -habits peculiar to it. In many cases 
certain habits, probably common to the species as a whole, have been 
recorded for only one subspecies. Such habits are mentioned under 
the subspecies on which the observations were made. The distribu- 
tion gives the range of the species as a whole, with only rough out- 
lines of the ranges of the subspecies, which in many cases cannot be 
accurately defined. 

The egg dates are the condensed results of a mass of records taken 
from the data in a large number of the best egg collections in the 
country, as well as from contributed field notes and from a few pub- 
lished sources. They indicate the dates on which eggs have been 


actually found in various parts of the country, showing the earliest 
and latest dates and the limits between which half the dates fall, in- 
dicating the height of the season. 

The plumages are described in only enough detail to enable the 
reader to trace the sequence of molts and plumages from birth to 
maturity and to recognize the birds in the different stages and at the 
different seasons. 

No attempt has been made to describe fully the adult plumages; 
this has been well done already in the many manuals and State books. 
Partial or complete albinism is liable to occur in almost any species; 
for this reason, and because it is practically impossible to locate all 
such cases, it has seemed best not to attempt to treat this subject at 
all. The names of colors, when in quotation marks, are taken from 
Kidgway's Color Standards and Nomenclature (1912). In the meas- 
urements of eggs, the foul' extremes are printed in bold-face type. 

Many who have contributed material for previous volumes have 
continued to cooperate. Receipt of material from nearly 500 con- 
tributors has been acknowledged previously. In addition to these, 
our thanks are due to the following new contributors: Earl Brooks, 
F. C. Clayton, J. D. Cleghorn, Roland C. Clement, Clarence Cottam, 
E. M. S. Dale, David E. Davis, Russell S. Davis, Richard J. Eaton, 
jMary M. Erickson, Albert K. Fisher, Robert Fredericks, John F. 
Freeman, Herbert Friedmann, Russell K. Grater, Hugh M. Halliday, 
Samuel A. Harper, Donald M. Hatfield, Harold Heath, Catherine A. 
Hurlbutt, Ruth B. Inman, H. R. Ivor, L. A. Kosier, Gordon M. Meade, 
Loye H. Miller, Mrs. D. M. Morrison, H. R. Meyers, A. L. Nelson, 
Norman A. Preble, W. F. Rapp, Jr., Richard Reade, J. W. Slipp, 
Bruce P. Stiles, William A. Taylor, W. Bryant Tyrrell, Stephen Wal- 
dron, J. Dan Webster, James B. Young, and Francis Zirrer. If any 
contributor fails to find his or her name in this or some previous 
bulletin, the author would be glad to be advised. As the demand for 
these volumes is much greater than the supply, the names of those 
who have not contributed to the work during the previous ten years 
will be dropped from the author's mailing list. 

Dr. Winsor M. Tyler rendered valuable assistance by reading and 
indexing, for these groups, a large part of the literature on North 
American birds, and he contributed three complete life histories. Dr. 
Alfred O. Gross and Robert S. Woods contributed two each; and 
Dr. Mary M. Erickson and Alexander Sprunt, Jr., contributed one 

Egg measurements were furnished especially for this volume by the 
American Museum of Natural History (Dean Amadon) , Griffing Ban- 
croft, the California Academy of Sciences (Robert T. Orr), Charles 
E. Doe, James R. Gillin, Wilson C. Hanna, Ed. N. Harrison, Turner 


E. McMullen, the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Ruth B. Inman) , 
the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (Margaret W. Wythe), Laurence 
Stevens, George H. Stuart, 3d, and the United States National 

Our thanks are also due to William George F. Harris for figuring 
hundreds of egg measurements and for sorting over and arranging 
a mass of egg dates. Through the courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife 
Service, the services of May Thacher Cooke were obtained to compile 
the distribution and migration paragraphs. The author claims no 
credit and assumes no responsibility for this part of the work. 

The manuscript for this bulletin was completed in August 1942. 
Contributions received since then will be acknowledged later. Only 
information of great importance could be added. Since this manu- 
script was first compiled, 18 new forms have been admitted to our 
Check-list by the A. O. U. committee. Their life histories are included 
in those of other forms of the species. The reader is reminded again 
that this is a cooperative work; if he fails to find in these volumes 
anything that he knows about the birds, he can blame himself for not 
having sent the information to — 

The Author. 



By Aethtir Cleveland Bext 

Taunton, Ma^s. 

Family SITTIDAE : Nuthatches 



Plates 1-4 


The white-breasted nuthatch is a droll, earnest little bird, rather 
sedate and unemotional. He is no great musician and seems to lack 
a sense of humor. He has none of the irrepressible fidgetiness of the 
house "wren, none of the charming happiness of the song sparrow ; he 
appears to take life on a matter-of-fact level. He is short-necked, 
broad-shouldered, sturdy, quick and sure in his motions, suggesting an 
athlete, and as we study him on his daily roimd. as he hops up and 
down over the bark, we see that he is an athlete with marked skill as 
an acrobat, like the tumbling kind, as much at home upside down as 
right side up. 

It is a characteristic pose of the nuthatch, perhaps unique among 
birds, to stand head downward on the trunk of a tree with the neck 
extended backward, the bill pointing straight outward from the bark. 

Spring and courtship. — If we have had a male nuthatch under our 
eye through the winter, either a bird roaming through a bit of wood- 
land or one visiting our feeding station daily, we notice, as spring ap- 
proaches, a change in his behavior : he begins to sing freely at all times 
of day, whereas previously he sang sparingly and only in the morning 



hours. At this time his deportment toward his mate changes also. 
All through the winter the pair has lived not far apart, feeding within 
hearing of each other, but the male has paid little attention to his 
mate ; in fact, on the f^od shelf he has shown dominance over her ; 
but now in the lengthening, warmer days of spring he becomes actively 
engaged over her comfort. A real courtship begins : he carries food 
to her and places it in her bill, he stores bits of nut in crevices of bark 
for her convenience, and he often addresses his singing directly to her. 
Standing back to her, he bows slowly downward as he sings, then in 
the interval before another song he straightens up, then bows as he 
sings again. The songs come with perfect regularity over and over 
again and can thus be recognized even in the distance as the courtship 

We may imagine what a changing color scheme is presented to the 
female bird, if, as his song invites her to do, she glance his way — the 
black of his crown and his rough raised mane, then the blue-gray of his 
back, then the variegated black and white pattern of his expanded tail, 
then, perhaps, at the end of his bow, a flash of ruddy brown. At other 
times he approaches the female more aggressively, strutting before her 
with stretched-out neck and flattened crown, a pose of intimidation. 

The change from the passive behavior of the winter months to active 
courtship takes place in New England early in April and indicates the 
advent of the nesting activities. 

Nesting. — Speaking of eastern Massachusetts, William Brewster 
(1906) says: "The favorite breeding haunts of the White-bellied Nut- 
hatch are ancient woods of oak, chestnut or maple where the trees are 
of the largest size and more or less gone to decay." In these surround- 
ings the bird commonly builds its nest high up in a tall tree, either 
in a natural cavity or in an old woodpecker's hole, or, in an orchard, 
it may make use of a knothole in an apple tree. 

Edward H. Forbush (1929) states that nuthatches sometimes nest 
in a cavity excavated by the birds themselves in decayed wood. Such 
instances, however, must be of rare occurrence, for William Brew- 
ster once told me that he had never known of a case. 

Mr. Bent (MS.) describes a nest "about 30 feet from the ground 
near the top of a large crooked swamp maple that stood near the end 
of a strip of woods on a private estate. The cavity was a rotted-out 
crevice in a nearly horizontal branch. The opening was too narrow 
for me to insert my small hand and had to be enlarged. The nesting 
material consisted of a small handful of soft fur that looked like 
rabbit fur, but nothing else ; the cavity was very small and not over 
a foot deep." 

Thomas D. Burleigh (1931) says of the bird in the mountainous 
regions of central Pennsylvania : 


Tbis species is one of the most characteristic birds of the scattered short 
stretches of woods in the open valleys, one pair at least, frequently two, being 
found in each one. Nesting is well under way by the middle of April, and by 
the latter part of that month or the first of May these birds are incubating full 
sets of from seven to nine eggs, the last being actually the commoner number. 
The nests are invariably in knot holes in the trunks of the larger trees, varying in 
height from 15 to 50 feet from the ground, the cavity itself being 6 to 8 inches 
in depth, and usually 6 inches from the entrance. The nests are substantial mat- 
ted beds of soft shreds of inner bark and rabbits' fur, with rarely a little wool, 
cow hair, and chicken feathers. But one brood is raised each year. 

Francis H. Allen says in his notes for April 18. 1942: "My atten- 
tion was called by low-pitched notes of indeterminate character. I 
found a pair acting in a strange manner about a bird house on the 
side of a tree. Besides feeding or going through the motions of 
picking food from the bark, they spent much of the time in wiping 
the bill from side to side — ^that is, the right side and left side of the 
bill alternately in rapid succession over and over for a considerable 
period of time in each bout. It was like the swinging of a pendulum 
in its regularity. The male did most of this, but the female also took 
part. A courtship rite was suggested, though it was not accompanied 
by any form of display. It was so regular and so long contmued 
that I do not think it could have been merely for the purpose of clean- 
ing the bill, though it may have started in that way and have been 
continued by imitation and as a sort of play." 

William Brewster (1936) writes thus of the birds nesting in Con- 
cord, Mass. : 

There is a round hole about S\^ inches in diameter 60 feet above the ground in 
our big elm, in which a pair of Flickers reared their brood 6 or 7 years ago. It 
has since been occupied at all seasons by gray squirrels. I have seen three ani- 
mals enter and leave it within a week. Yet this morning about 8 o'clock a pair 
of White-bellied Nuthatches were building a nest there. The female did most 
of the work and performed it with remarkable rapidity. She would run out on 
a large branch, pry off a scale of bark 5 or 6 inches long, take it into the hole 
and almost instantly reappear and go after another. The male occasionally got 
one and simply poked it into the hole, without entering himself. 

Of the several accounts in the literature of nuthatches breeding in 
bird boxes the following is an example, showing also the bird's method 
of obtaining rabbit fur for the lining of its nest. Lucien Harris 
(1927), of Atlanta, Ga.. writes: 

I saw a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches carrying strips of bark into the 
soap bos. Often they would carry strips larger than themselves. They were very 
industrious and paid no attention to us. The birds used the bark to cover the 
entire floor of the bos and the layer was about half an inch in thickness. They 
then proceeded to collect little pellets of dried earth and lumps of mud which 
was scattered thinly over the bark. 

After this preliminary they started on the nest proper, which they placed in a 
back corner of the box. The nest was saucer-shaped and constructed of small 
twigs, grasses and rootlets. 


Then, as if not quite satisfied, this unique pair discovered a dead rabbit — one 
that had been dead for soiue time — and proceeded to line the nest proper, as well 
as the rest of the box, with rabbit fur, so that when completed the box smelled 
more like a buzzard's domicile then a nuthatch's home. Brer' Rabbit's fluffy tail 
held a conspicuous place in the middle of the box. 

The habit of taking hair from dead animals may be the birds' usual 
procedure, for Edward H. Forbush (1929) says: "Mr. Maurice Broun 
tells me that he saw one come down from a tree and hop along the 
ground until it reached a dead squirrel from which it plucked a bunch 
of hair nearly as large as its own head." 

Helen Granger Wliittle (1926) gives a record of a pair mated for 
2 years. She says: "In the Bulletin for October, 1925, I reported a 
pair of Nuthatches {Sitta c. carolinensis) which had remained to- 
gether a winter and a summer, and which had brought a family of 
young to our Peterboro [New Hampshire] station in July 1925. These 
parents have been under observation for another year. They have 
now spent at least two winters and two summers constantly in each 
other's compan}^ and they have raised two families which we know 
about. Keeping 'tabs' on these birds has been simplified by the fact 
that both are banded on the left tarsus. All our other Nuthatches have 
been banded on the right tarsus." 

Eggs, — [Author's note: All the nuthatches lay large sets of eggs, 
and the white-breasted nuthatch is perhaps the most consistently pro- 
lific ; it lays 5 to 9 or even 10 eggs to a set, but the extremes are un- 
common ; 8 seems to be the commonest number. In a series of 15 sets 
in the J. P. Norris collection there are 2 sets of 5, 1 of 6, 3 of 7, 7 of 8, 
and only 1 of 9. 

The eggs are usually ovate or short-ovate and have very little gloss. 
The ground color is usually pure white but often creamy white and 
sometimes pinkish white. They are prettily and usually heavily 
marked with bright reddish brown, "ferruginous," "cinnamon-rufous," 
"hazel," or "vinaceous" and sometimes with a few spots of pale laven- 
der or purplish drab. The markings are often thickest at the larger 
end ; some eggs are evenly sprinkled over the whole surface with fine 
dots of pale brown. 

The measurements of 40 eggs in the United States National Museum 
average 18.8 by 14.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 19.8 by 15.0, 17.3 by 13.0, and 18.3 by 15.2 millimeters.] 

Young.— The, young birds when they leave the nest look very much 
like their parents. In Mr. Bent's nest there were "two females and 
three males, showing the same sex characters as the adults. They were 
nearly grown and fully fledged; they could not fly much, but could 
climb perfectly." 

Dr. Arthur A. Allen (1929) states that the incubation period is 
12 days and that both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young 


for 2 weeks after they have left the nest. He says that the young 
birds do not return to the cavity to sleep, but "cling upside down to 
the trunk of a tree beneath a projecting branch." 

In Dr. Wilbur K. Butts's (1931) experience, "the male Nuthatch 
does not assist in incubation. He does feed the female while she is 
on the nest. * * * Both sexes feed the young." 

Plumages. — [Author's note: All the nuthatches are peculiar 
in having a juvenal plumage that closely resembles the adult nuptial 
plumage and in which the sexes are distinguishable by the same char- 
acters as in the adult (see pi. 2). In the young male the black of the 
pileum and hind neck is duller than in the adult and less sharply de- 
fined against the gray back, and the edges of the greater wing coverts 
are more or less gray. The young female is similar, except that the 
pileum (front half of the crown) is deep plumbeous-gray instead 
of black ; the hind neck is dull black. Otherwise, young birds of both 
sexes are much like their parents. 

Dr. Dwight (1900) says that the first winter plumage is "acquired 
by a partial post juvenal molt, in July, in Florida, which involves the 
body plumage and wing coverts, but not the remiges nor rectrices, 
young birds and adults becoming practically indistinguishable." 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in July.] 

Food. — The nuthatch feeds on insects as well as on nuts, acorns, and 
other vegetable matter. Waldo L. McAtee (1926a) gives thus an 
excellent summary of its diet : 

The White-breast has been observed to feed freely on beechnuts, to devour 
acorns and hickory nuts, to take maize from cribs, and to be very fond of seeds 
of sunflowers. These observations point to a fondness for mast which is char- 
acteristic of the nuthatch tribe. During the winter months nearly all of the 
food is mast, while through the spring and summer, much animal food is taken, 
often to the full capacity of the bird's stomach. 

This is derived chiefly from the ranks of beetles, spiders, caterpillars, true 
bugs, and ants and other small hymenoptera. Besides these some flies, grass- 
hoppers, moths, and millipeds are eaten. Among the insect food items known to 
have a detrimental relation to the forest are nut weevils, the locust seed weevils 
{Spermophagus roMniae), round-headed wood borers, leaf beetles, tree hoppers, 
psyllids, scale insects, caterpillars, and ants. The White-breast has been observed 
to feed also on larvae of gall flies, eggs of plant lice and of fall cankerworms, 
oyster scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi), and upon larvae of the gypsy moth and forest 
tent caterpillars. * * * 

In the long run, the White-breast, no doubt, destroys a large number of forest 
pests, and while not so valuable as some of the more highly insectivorous birds, 
still deserves protection. 

The birds are fond of suet, as everyone who maintains a feeding 
station knows, ^''illiam Brewster (1936) gives this scene of a pair 
caching this delicacy : 

The pair of Nuthatches came regularly to the suet, oftenest in the early morn- 

758066—48 2 


ing. I watched them closely for half an hour this morning [March 17, 1911]. 
The male was digging out pieces up to the size of a large pea and carrying them 
away to store them in crevices in tree trunks and behind scales of loose bark. 
He took them to different trees and in all directions, usually going about 100 
yards. Whenever the female was with or near him, he invariably employed her 
to carry off and cache the morsel. She took it from him without hesitation and 
flew, as he did, in various directions, chiefly to apple trees in the orchard. 
Curiously enough, he would not permit her to touch the main store of supply 
from which he was drawing. Whenever she attempted to do so, he attacked her 
quite viciously and drove her away. Yet the next moment he would give her the 
small pieces that he had just extracted. 

Edward H. Forbush (1929) states: "Several ornithologists have 
doubted that they ever break nuts of any kind. There is credible 
testimony however to support the statement. Dr. C. W, Townsend 
says that he has twice observed the habit." Dr. Townsend (1905) 
continues: "On one occasion, when the bird was disturbed, it flew off 
with the acorn into which it had thrust its bill. Their object was 
probably to obtain the larvae within." 

Those of us who have fed nuthatches at our window ledges and have 
watched them feed at arm's length have had ample proof that the 
birds do crack and swallow pieces of nuts. I have frequently had a 
bird take a bit of nut meat from my hand and swallow it, or, if it 
were too large, take it to the corner of the shelf, as to a cranny of 
bark, and split it, and I have watched a bird crack open a cherry stone. 

Prof. O. A. Stevens (MS.) writes: "When they first appear in the 
fall, we have often fed them squash seeds, which they cache with 
great industry. I have at times watched an individual bird take six 
or seven seeds in succession in different directions, hunting for suitable 
places in trees, shingles, and other parts of houses." 

Behavior. — The white-breasted nuthatch spends most of his day 
hopping over the bark of the trunks and main branches of large 
trees, generally moving head downward toward the ground. Francis 
H. Allen (1912) points out an advantage in this procedure, saying: 
"I suspect that by approaching his prey from above he detects insects 
and insect-eggs in the crevices of the bark which would be hidden 
from another point of view. The Woodpeckers and the Creepers can 
take care of the rest." 

Edward H. Forbush (1929) explains how the downward progress 
is accomplished. He says : "They seem to have taken lessons of the 
squirrel which runs down the tree head first, stretching out his hind 
feet backward and so clinging to the bark with his claws as he goes 
down; but the nuthatch having only two feet has to reach forward 
under its breast with one and back beside its tail with the other, and 
thus, standing on a wide base and holding safely to the bark with the 
three fore claws of the upper foot turned backward it hitches nimbly 
down the tree head first." A photograph in Bird-Lore, vol. 31, 


p. 424, seems to corroborate this statement. However, I once had 
under observation for weeks a nuthatch that had lost his entire left 
foot, the tarsus ending in a stump, thickened at the end, and in spite 
of his deformity, he was able to clamber over the branches, both large 
and small ones, and even to hang head downward, clinging to a small 
branch with his single foot. 

Sometimes a nuthatch will hop down to the very base of a tree and 
then continue on over the gi-ound. Here the bird looks strange 
enough, accustomed as we are to see it in reversed position, as leaning 
forward it jumps or leaps along, reminding us not a little of a frog. 
Edward H. Forbush (1929) tells of "a pair that spent an entire fore- 
noon going over the chips left under a large tree from which the loose 
bark had been scraped. The birds picked over this material very 
thoroughly in their search for insects and insects' eggs." 

The tameness of the white-breasted nuthatch, or the lack of suspi- 
cion it shows toward human beings, is remarkable. With a little pa- 
tience a bird may be induced to feed from our hand, especially if we 
are indoors and reach out through an open window to the food shelf 
where it is accustomed to feed. There are many such records in the 
literature. A striking example of trustfulness is related thus by 
E. M. Mead (1903), who while outdoors in Central Park, New York, 
fed a bird for two successive seasons: "So fearless is she that she 
will take food from my lips, shoulder or lap. Even an open umbrella 
over my head has no terrors for her. Although she manifested some 
annoyance at the appearance of the camera within 2 feet of us for 
more than an hour, during which time 12 exposures were made, still 
she repeated all her little tricks, not only once, but several times." 

The bird displays remarkable agility in the air, on the bark of trees 
and small branches ; it can catch a falling nut in midair, or scramble 
downward over the bark and overtake it, and it can hang upside down, 
swinging from a tiny branch. A. C. Bent (MS.) mentions a bird that 
ran down a swaying rope, "always head downward, and scolded me 
within 2 feet of my face." 

Charles L. Whittle (1930) reports a banded bird known to have 
reached the age of 7i/2 years. 

Wilbur K. Butts (1927), after making a careful investigation of 
the feeding range of marked white-breasted nuthatches, remarks: 
"In the course of the study it soon became apparent that each pair 
did not wander freely about, but had a definite, restricted, though 
fairly large feeding range." This accords with the experience I had 
with a male bird v/hich visited my feeding shelf daily, with one short 
interlude, for over a year. Butts (1931) gives the following inter- 
esting summary of a subsequent study of the bird : 

1. All or nearly all the individuals of the Nuthatch found at Ithaca were 
permanent residents. There is no evidence of any migration in this locality. 


2. Each pair of Nuthatches had a definite feeding territory throughout the year., 

3. The size of the territory in the winter was about 25 or 30 acres in wooded 
country and apparently about 50 acres in seiniwooded country. 4. They ranged 
over an approximately equal area during the nesting season, though it was not 
necessarily tlie same area. 5. Feeding stations had no effect on the feeding 
range of the Nuthatch. 6. Feeding stations should be about one-fourth of a mile 
apart for the Nuthatch. 7. The nest is built in or near the winter feeding terri- 
tory. 8. Besides the mated pairs which have established territories there are 
a number of wandering birds. 9. In case of the disappearance of one member 
of a mated pair, its place may be talien by one of these wandering birds. 10. 
Nuthatches may nest in the same hole for successive seasons. 11. The large 
size of both winter and breeding territories is apparently not caused by inability 
of the birds to find sutHcient food in a smaller area. They are able to obtain 
plenty of food quite near the nest. The feeding of the young birds is apparently 
not such a severe task as it is commonly supposed to be. 

Francis Zirrer, of Hayward, Wis., writes (MS.) : "The families 
stay together until about the end of November, as up to that time the 
old birds are still occasionally feeding the young, which at first are 
somewhat reluctant to come to the feeding table. Later, the old males 
usurp the table and chase, or try to chase, all others away. They tame 
readily, come to the hand for food, but know perfectly well the dif- 
ference in size of the food; they will come, pick the first piece, but 
seeing a larger piece will pause a little, drop the first one and take 
the largest. If no food is on the table, they will come to the window, 
or visit the woodland dweller at his place in the woods, where he 
works at his winter supply of fuel, often a considerable distance from 
home; and there is usually no rest until he returns to the cabin and 
fills the table with a fresh supply of food. They become so used to a 
certain person and his call that they will, if within hearing distance, 
come and follow long distances through the woods. Met in the woods 
during the breeding season, often more than a mile away, they will 
come at the call and sit on the hand, head, or shoulder. Of course, 
it is advisable to carry something in the pockets, which one used to 
such things usually does. As a rule, they are quite fearless, even 
bold ; during the nesting season of the goshawk, which nested several 
years a few hundred yards from the cabin, the bold little imps in- 
spected fearlessly the limbs and trunk of the nesting tree, apparently 
not fearing the fierce raptores a few feet or yards away." 

Voice. — Most of the notes of the white-breasted nuthatch bear a de- 
cided resemblance to the human voice ; they seem to be spoken or whis- 
tled. A song, for example, may be likened to a man whistling to a 
dog— a regular series of about six or eight notes, sometimes more, 
sharply accented, striking the same pitch, each with a slight rising 
inflection. The pitch is commonly D next but one above middle C. 
When a bird is singing near at hand the voice loses some of its whistled 
quality and becomes full, resonant, almost mellow. The song has been 
variously rendered into syllables such as hah-hah-hah, tway, tway, 


what, what, too, too, and ivhoot, whoot. These renderings represent 
the song heard from different distances, and all of them suggest it 
somewhat. Occasionally the pitch of the song falls slightly at the 
end; sometimes the pitch undulates in slight degree; and rarely the 
bird crowds 20 or more rapid notes into a song of normal length. 

Some years ago I had a male nuthatch under close observation where 
I could hear it practically every day for a full round of the seasons. 
The following quotation (W. M. Tyler, 1916) gives a summary of his 
notes : 

The Nuthatch sings every month in the year ; even on the coldest days of Jan- 
uary he occasionally sings a few times in the early morning — I have heard the 
song when the temperature was zero; — in February songs are more frequently 
heard, but singing during this month is still irregular. The chief singing period 
is from the first of March until the last of May; during these 3 months the male 
sings continually. June is a month of. comparative silence (I have only five rec- 
ords of song) ; in July and August songs are heard almost as infrequently as in 
winter, and during the last 4 months of the year singing is still rarer. In winter, 
singing is confined to the early morning hours, — soon after sunrise — and even 
during the spring it is rare, before the first of April, to hear a Nuthatch sing 
in the afternoon. In autumn an occasional song is heard in the warmest part 
of the day. 

In addition to his songs, our Nuthatch utters five different notes: (1) The 
simplest of these, and by far the most frequently used note of his vocabulary, is 
a high, short syllable, quietly pronounced, much aspirated, sounding like "hit." 
This note is given when the bird is perched and when he is in the air, both by a 
solitary bird and by the pair when they are together. It is both a soliloquizing 
and a conversational note and is associated as a rule with a calm mood. (2) The 
well-known ejaculation "quank," a call at certain distances remarkably sug- 
gestive of the human voice, is often employed when the bird seems excited. At 
such times the note is delivered with much vigor; on other occasions it is ap- 
parently used as a call between a pair of birds. This note and the "hit" are the 
only notes I have heard from the female bird. The "quank" call is very often 
doubled and is frequently extended into a loud, rattling chatter. As in the case 
of the song, the "quank" appears very much rounder, fuller and more resonant 
when heard near at hand. At short range it has a rolling "r" sound. (3) A low- 
toned "chuck" is sometimes addressed to the female. (4) On several occasions 
I have heard the male bird utter a growl (deep in tone for a bird) as he dashed 
in attack at a Sparrow. (5) A note which I have heard but rarely is a long, 
high whistle with a rising, followed by a falling inflection. Our word "queer" 
recalls the note which bears a decided resemblance to one of the Pine Grosbeak's 
piping calls. The note has a ventriloquial property, appearing to come from a 
distance when, in reality, the bird is close by. I heard this note several times 
in late February and early March, generally between songs in the early morning. 

Francis H. Allen says in his notes for May 9, 1939 : "From a pair 
feeding in trees I heard a note that was new to me often repeated. It^ 
was a soft, two-syllabled note that might be rendered k dddp. Some- 
times I saw that it came from the female, and I never was sure that 
I heard it from* the male. The note was at least as high-pitched as 
the familiar tilt, which the birds also uttered frequently. Twice I say 


the male feed the female. The feeding was accompanied by a faint 
little rapid chatter that was new to me. The h ddd'p note was so differ- 
ent from the ordinary calls of the species that I did not suspect a nut- 
hatch as the author when I first heard it," 

Field marks. — The white-breasted nuthatch is a small, thick-set bird 
with a pearl-gray, unstreaked back, shining black crown, and black- 
and-white wings and tail. The side of the head is white, without an 
ocular stripe, and the bill is long, straight, and dark. It is the largest 
of our nul hatches and does not resemble the smaller species closely in 
plumage. Its confirmed habit of hopping downward over the bark 
of tree trunks distinguishes it readily from the warblers, kinglets, and 
other small avian frequenters of woodland. 

Enemies. — The white-breasted nuthatch is one of the species vic- 
timized by the cowbird, but cases are apparently rare, for Dr. Herbert 
Friedmann (1934) says: "I knew of three instances before; now an- 
other one has come to my attention, a set of six eggs of the nuthatch 
and one of the Eastern Cowbird, collected May 5, 1012, at State Col- 
lege, Pennsylvania, b}^ R. C. Harlow." 

R. W. Williams (1918) gives this lively description of an attack of 
two red-headed woodpeckers upon a nuthatch's nest and young : 

Bright and happy days for the birds, old and yonng, ensued, until one morning 
before breakfast (May 9) two Red-headed Woodpeckers arrived on the scene and 
inspected the box. I did not attach much significance to this and contented 
myself, before leaving for my oflSce, with frightening them away by vigorous ges- 
ticulations and by small sticks thrown at them. These methods seemed to suffice 
for the time. Later in the day, however, I received a message that the Wood- 
peckers were enlarging the entrance tind possessing the box, throwing out the 
young Nuthatches — three having already bean cast to the ground — and altogether 
evicting the parents, which, grief-stricken, were looking on from nearby stations. 
The red-headed ruffians were at the box when I reached home that afternoon 
but they disappeared at my approach. I procured my gun and took a position 
from which I would be sure to reach them if they returned. I had not long to 
wait. One of them alighted at the entrance of the box. I fired and the bird 
fell to the ground directly under the box. Both of the Nuthatches flew to the 
base of the tree and, clinging there within a foot of the ground, regarded the( 
Woodpecker for more than a minute, with exhibitions of keen satisfaction and 

I found another of the young Nuthatches dead a few feet away from the tree. 
None of the young birds was mutilated to any extent, from which circum- 
stance it seems probable that the Woodpeckers were not in quest of food, but 
distinctly bent on mischief. 

Harold S. Peters (1936) mentions two flies. Ornithonica confluenta 
Say and Ornithomyia anchineuria Speiser, which have been found 
in the plumage of this bird. 

Fall and winter. — As we have seen above, no prominent migration 
of the white-breasted nuthatch has been noted. P. A. Taverner and 
B. H. Swales (1908) report from Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada: 


"This species, though met with on nearly all visits, has never been very 
common. Usually a few scattered individuals have made the day's 
record. Our date of greatest abundance was October 14, 1906, when 
10 were listed. * * * Our fall dates are conflicting, but seem to 
indicate that migrants arrive irregularly from the last of August to 
the middle of September." 

The nuthatch, as we know him best, is an autumn and winter bird. 
We meet him hopping about the leafless trees, settled in some wood- 
land, generally in the company of his mate. Here through the whole 
winter he remains in a domain that he has established as his winter 
quarters, and where he roosts in some sheltered cavity. He often ap- 
pears to be alone, but if we listen we may hear his mate answering 
from a distance his little piglike, grunting call. Thus the pair keeps 
in touch, and when, drifting through the woodland, they meet and 
feed in close proximity, they exchange salutations back and forth with 
their soft, conversational hit^ hit. The chickadees and creepers often 
join them for a time, all three species, with sometimes a downy wood- 
pecker, searching for food in the same trees, until the more restless 
birds flit onward and leave the nuthatches alone again. 


Range. — Southern Canada to southern Mexico. 

The white-breasted nuthatch ranges north to British Columbia 
(150-mile House) ; Alberta (Swift Current Rapids and Beaver Hills) ; 
Saskatchewan (probably Prince Albert) ; Manitoba (Lake St. Martin, 
Kalevala, and Wimiipeg) ; Ontario (Sudbury and Ottawa) ; Quebec 
(Montreal) ; New Brunswick (Grand Falls) ; Prince Edward Island 
(North River) ; and Nova Scotia (Pictou). From this line the white- 
breasted nuthatch is found in every State to the Gulf coast and south 
in Mexico to Veracruz (Las Vigas) ; Puebla (Mount Orizaba) ; 
Guerrero (Chilpancingo) ; and Baja California (Victoria Mountains) . 

The white-breasted nuthatch is not truly migratory, but apparently 
it sometimes withdraws in winter from the northernmost part of its 
range and from the higher altitudes. On the Atlantic coast it is found 
in some parts of the Coastal Plain more in winter than during the 
breeding season. 

The above outline applies to the species as a whole. At least seven 
races are recognized within our area, and additional ones in IMexico. 
The southern white-breasted nuthatch {S. c. carolinensis) occupies the 
southeastern zone from North Carolina and Tennessee southward. 
The eastern white-breasted nuthatch {S. c. coohei) occurs in the north- 
eastern part from Manitoba eastward and south to Virginia and 
eastern Kansas and extending to central Texas. The Rocky Mountain 
nuthatch {S. c. nelsoni) occurs from northern Montana to northern 


Mexico and from the western edge of the plains west to western Mon- 
tana and Wyoming, eastern Nevada, and central Arizona. The Inyo 
nuthatch {/S. c tenuissima) occurs from British Columbia to northern 
Baja California, and from western Montana and Wyoming to the 
Cascades of Oregon and Washington. The slender-billed nuthatch 
{S. c. aavXeata) occurs from the western side of the Sierra Nevada to 
the Pacific coast and from central Washington southward. The Mexi- 
can white-breasted nuthatch {8. c. mexicana) ranges from the Chisos 
Mountains of southwestern Texas through the highlands of Mexico. 
The San Pedro nuthatch {S. c. alexandrae) occurs in the pine belt of 
the Sierra San Pedro Martir, Baja California. The San Lucas 
nuthatch {S. c. lagunae) occurs in the Cape district of Baja California. 

Casual records. — A specimen is recorded to have been taken at 
Churchill, Manitoba, previous to 1845 ; the species was observed at the 
Forks of the Albany River, Ontario, on September 2, 1920 ; one was 
observed at Kamouraska, Quebec, on May 3, 1934, and one seen in 
Gaspe County, Quebec, on July 9, 1924. 

Egg dates. — Arizona : 9 records, April 22 to May 28. 

California : 56 records, March 21 to June 29 ; 28 records, April 6 to 
May 17, indicating the height of the season. 

Colorado : 12 records. May 13 to June 25. 

Florida : 8 records, March 15 to June 11. 

New York : 15 records, April 29 to May 30, 

Oregon : 9 records, April 19 to June 24. 

Pennsylvania : 11 records, April 21 to May 29. 

Wisconsin : 5 records, April 29 to May 11. 


PlATES 5, 6 

This southeastern race of the white-breasted nuthatch has a rather 
wide range in the Lower Austral Zone of coastal South Carolina, 
Georgia, and Florida, along the Gulf coast to Louisiana, and up the 
Mississippi Valley to southeastern Missouri, Kentucky, and southern 
Illinois. * 

W. E. D. Scott (1890) in describing this subspecies (under the name 
atJcinsi) gave as its characters : "Average of wing, as compared with 
northern birds, 0.20 in. smaller in males, 0.15 in. smaller in females. 
Bill relatively much longer and slenderer. Light markings of tipping 
of the coverts and quills of the wings decidedly narrower. A little 
less white in the tail. In the female birds the Uach of the top of the 
head and nape is pronounced^ and it is difficult to distinguish the sexes 


easily, and in some cases impossible, by the color of these parts. 
* * * The variation in the Florida form is mainly in the direction 
of the western subspecies aculeata^ but the bill is less attenuated ; the 
gray of the secondaries is purer, and there are other minor differences 
of coloration." 

He says that this nuthatch was not common around Tarpon 
Springs, where his type was collected. I cannot remember having 
ever seen a white-breasted nuthatch on any of my trips to Florida 
and have no reference to it in my notes, though I have traveled over 
the State rather extensively. A. H. Howell (1932) refers to it as 
"a fairly common resident in northern and middle Florida; casual 
in southern Florida." Apparently, it occurs in southern Florida only 
in winter. He says that it is "found chiefly in open pine forests, and 
its nests are said to be placed in pine stubs on tracts that have been 
cut and burned over." H. H. Bailey (1925) refers to it as a resident 
the year round, in northern and central Florida, "breeding sparingly." 

According to Arthur T. Wayne (1910), the range of this subspecies 
should be extended northward into the coast region of South Carolina, 
"for the birds that are resident on the coast are certainly much nearer 
atkinsi than typical caroUnensis of the interior of the State." Breed- 
ing adult females that he collected "had the whole top of the head, 
as well as the nape, deep black," the well-marked character of atkinsi. 
He says of its haunts: "This nuthatch is by no means common and 
a forest of from one hundred to three hundred acres seldom contains 
more than three or four pairs. The birds frequent wooded land, 
showing a preference for mixed pine woods; but I have also found 
them in the largest swamps, where they are generally in pairs, never 
congregating in small flocks like the Brown-headed Nuthatch." 

Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1938) refers to it as "an uncommon perma- 
nent resident," in Louisiana, and says : "It is an inhabitant of wood- 
lands, orchards, and other cultivated areas, shade trees about houses, 
and in fact even the parks and streets of the towns and cities." 

Nesting. — Mr. Bailey (1925) says that, in Florida, "they prefer the 
natural cavities of the several species of oaks and other hard-wood 
trees in which to place their nest of bark-fiber, fur and hair ; though 
occasionally they may use the old cavity of the smaller woodpeckers." 
S. A. Grimes has sent me several photographs of nesting sites of this 
nuthatch, taken in Duval County, Fla. (pis. 5, 6). One of these nests 
was in a natural cavity, a long, narrow slit, in the trunk of a longleaf 
pine ; others were in dead or living pines, and one was in a cypress. 

In South Carolina, Wayne (1910) remarks tliat the nest is hard to 
discover, as we all know ; he found only three nests. His first nest was 
in an abandoned hole of the red-cockaded woodpecker, in a living pine 
tree 20 feet from the ground, and a set of five eggs was taken from it on 
March 18, 1903. He took another set of five eggs, the second set of this 


same pair, on April 6; this nest was in an old hole of the downy wood- 
pecker, 35 feet from the ground in a dead pine. His third nest was 
in a natural cavity of a red oak, about 45 feet above the ground, from 
which he took another set of five eggs on March 31, 1904. 

Dr. Oberholser (1938) says that, in Louisiana, "occasionally the bird 
excavates its own home, and it is also fond of using nesting boxes or 
bird houses, even close to a dwelling." 

M. G. Vaiden (MS.) reports a nest that he found near Kosedale, 
Miss., on April 12, 1926; the nest was in a dead willow, some 8 feet 
up, in a natural cavity; it was "composed of feathers, some grass 
and decayed hair and skin of a squirrel." 

Eggs. — Five seems to be the usual number of eggs found in the nest 
of the Florida nuthatch. Perhaps more or fewer may occasionally 
make up a set. These are practically indistinguishable from the eggs 
of the northern white-breasted nuthatch, though some that I have 
seen are somewhat more heavily marked. The measurements of 40 
eggs average 18.3 by 14.3 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four ex- 
tremes measure 19.6 by 15.0, 18.7 by 15.3, 17.1 by 14.5, and 18.1 by 13.4 

I can find nothing peculiar in any of the other habits of this nut- 
hatch, which probably do not differ materially from those of its 
northern relative. Maynard (1896), however, states that the "males 
utter a singular song which consists of a series of low notes which 
partly resemble those of the Carolina Wren and partly those of the 
Tufted Tit. The birds when giving this odd lay appear very restless, 
and fly from tree to tree without pausing anywhere." This may be a 
courtship performance. 




In the Rocky Mountain region, from southern Alberta southward 
into northern Mexico, and from the eastern base of the Cascades and 
the northern Sierra Nevada eastward across the Rocky Mountains, we 
find this large and well-marked race of the white-breasted nuthatches. 

Dr. Mearns (1902a) describes it as the "largest known form of Sitta 
carolinensis. Bill large and rather stout, with contour of maxilla con- 
vex rather than straight above. Coloration dark. Under parts 
washed with gray and fulvous or fawn color, but less strongly so than 
in Sitta carolinensis mexicana Nelson and Palmer. * * * In addi- 
tion to its larger size, this form may be separated from the eastern 
bird by its darker coloration, the back being more nearly slate color 
than plumbeous, and the color pattern of the tertials as in Sitta caro- 
linensis aculeata, from which latter its larger size, stouter and differ- 


ently shaped bill, and the gray and fawn color instead of pure white 
under parts distinguish it. In nelsoni the white of the tail-feathers is 
more extended than in other forms, and, excepting Tnexicana, the fawn 
color of the sides and abdomen of the young is more intense than in the 
remaining subspecies of /Sitta caroUnensis.^^ 

This is the form that we found to be fairly common in the Huachuca 
Mountains, in southern Arizona, up to about 7,000 feet, where we saw 
it occasionally and found one nest. Mr. Swarth (IQOtlb) says that 
it is "resident throughout the mountains, though most abundant in 
the higher pine regions. During the cold weather it is quite common 
in the oaks along the base of the mountains, but though a few breed 
there, the majority of them ascend to a higher altitude in the summer." 

In New Mexico, according to Mrs. Bailey (1928), it "is found in 
summer mainly from 7,000 to 8,000 feet. Few species are so strictly 
confined as this to a definite belt of altitude." In fall it wanders some- 
times below but mainly above its breeding range. In Colorado, 
Sclater (1912) says that it "is a common resident throughout the year, 
being found chiefly among the foothills and in the pinon and cedar 
zone in winter, and at higher elevations, nearly up to timber line, in 
summer, but it has been found breeding as low as 5,300 feet at Little- 
ton near Denver." In extreme northeastern California, in the Lassen 
Peak region, Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) found the Rocky 
Mountain nuthatch resident in the "higher coniferous forests." They 
observed it in yellow pine, white fir, and lodgepole pine. Aretas A. 
Saunders (1921) says that, in western Montana, it "breeds in conifer- 
ous forests in the Transition, Canadian and Hudsonian zones, show- 
ing preference for yellow pine forests in the Transition, about the 
foothills of the mountains, or for white-bark pine in the Hudsonian." 

Nesting. — Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) rfound a nest, on 
May 21, 1925, on the west side of Eagle Lake in the Lassen Peaik 
region, "in a water-killed pine stub on the lake shore." They report 
another nest "in the stub-forest near Eagle Lake Resort. It was one 
and one-half meters up in an old woodpecker nest hole on the southeast 
side of a stump three meters high." The birds were feeding young 
at the time, June 12, carrying in food "at intervals sometimes as short 
as one minute. * * * Much of each bird's time was spent in flying 
into the air and catching flying insects." 

Rev. P. B. Peabody (1906) published some photographs of unu- 
sually low Wyoming nests of the Rocky Mountain nuthatch ; in one 
case, in a low, rotten stump in an open space, "the bottom of the nest 
was but a few inches above the ground ; and the cavity but about 9 
inches in height. The entrance was very irregular; and the cavity 
still more so. It appeared to have been made a year previous ; appar- 
ently by Chickadees. The containing nest was beautifully made ; and 
the blackish hair of which it mostly consisted made delicate contrast 


with the pearl-white eggs." He says that, ordinarily, "the material 
that surrounds the eggs is a strange conglomerate; made up, in greater 
part, of disintegrated pellets ejected by birds of prey or voided by 
coyotes. It is most interesting to note ; that this material seems to be 
irregularly added at all times after the first choice of the home. Mate- 
rial is often brought to the nest as late as mid-incubation time." 

Frank C. Willard (1912) says that, in Arizona, "nine out of ten nests 
are in oaks, the balance usually in pines though a sycamore or madrone 
is occasionally selected. A natural cavity with a long narrow open- 
ing is generally elected. The nest is a mass of assorted fur and hair 
of various animals, skunk and squirrel fur, cow and deer hair pre- 
dominating. I have also found rabbit fur and bear's hair in their 
nests. Enough is used to completely fill the bottom of the cavity and 
come up a little on the sides." He mentions a nest in a pine stub on 
tlie summit of the main ridge of the Huachuca Mountains, altitude 
8,450 feet, one in an oak near the summit, and a nest in a dead stub of a 
sycamore in the bed of a canyon, altitude 5,200 feet. "One brood, only, 
is raised m a season. The same nesting site is sometimes used year 
after year, though vermin in the nest frequently cause them to select 
a new location the next season." The only nest that we found, while 
I was with him, was 18 feet from the ground in a big blackjack oak, at 
an elevation of about 7,000 feet in the Huachucas ; it was in a natural 
cavity in which the base of a limb had not entirely rotted out; the 
bird had entered through the cracks in the rotted wood and had a 
fresh set of five eggs on May 12, 1922. The nest consisted of a great 
mass of rabbit's fur, mixed with pieces of inner bark and bits of straw. 

E(/gs. — Mr. Willard has found as few as three heavily incubated 
eggs and as many as six, but apparently the set most commonly con- 
sists of five egg* These eggs are practically indistinguishable from 
those of the eastern white-breasted nuthatch. What few eggs I have 
seen are more lightly marked, but Mr. Peabody (1906) mentions some 
heavily marked eggs ; I infer therefore that the eggs probably show 
all the normal variations common to eggs of the species. The measure- 
ments of 40 eggs average 18.9 by 14.2 millimeters; the eggs showing 
the four extremes measures 21.1 by 14.3, 20.2 by 14.8, 17.3 by 14.2, and 
18.5 by 13.2 millimeters. 

Behavior. — In most of its habits and traits the Rocky Mountain 
nuthatch does not differ greatly from its eastern relative, though its 
voice is thinner and weaker. It does not seem to gather into flocks, 
as the pygmy nuthatch does, and is almost always seen singly or in 
pairs, though Swarth (1904b) says that "a single one may occasionally 
be seen in a flock of Pygmy Nuthatches or Chicadees." The members 
of the pair are much devoted to each other ; the male feeds the female 
on the nest ; and the pair travel about together in winter, keeping in 
touch with each other with their quaint calls. 




Plates 7, 8 


The first of the western races of the white-breasted nuthatches to 
be described is a well-marked subspecies and is found on the Pacific 
slope west of the mountains, from southern British Columbia to 
northern Baia California. Ridgway (1904) gives the following very 
good description of it: "Similar to S. c. carolinensis, but gray of 
back, etc., darker (about as in S. c. athM) ; black central areas of 
greater wing-coverts much less distinct; black areas on inner second- 
aries also much less distinct, as well as more restricted, that on outer 
web of second tertial usually with posterior extremity acuminate- 
pointed instead of rounded; under parts more purely white; bill 
averaging longer and relatively more slender, and toes shorter; adult 
female with black of hindneck broken by dark gray tips to the feathers 
and concealed white spots." ... . nnn 

Its haunts are in the coniferous forests of the mountains from 4 000 
to 9,400 feet, among the yellow pines on mountain slopes and m 
the oaks of the higher foothills. Grinnell, Dixon, and Lmsdale (1930) 
say of its haunts in the Lassen Peak region: "This race of white- 
breasted nuthatch had its metropolis entirely within the 'blue vegeta- 
tional area, in the western end of the section ; that is, the birds collected 
and found upon comparison to belong properly to the subspecies 
aculeata were all from points west of the western edge of the green 
coniferous timber. The trees they most frequented were blue ^ oak, 
valley oak, digger pine, and, along stream courses, cottoj^^^o^^' 

W E Griffee tells me that, "in western Oregon, the slender-billed 
nuthatches are commonest in the oak-covered foothills, but nowhere are 

they really abundant." .^ . x, 

^s^m/-There is nothing in the nesting habits of this nuthatch 
that is different from those of the other races of the species. In the 
Lassen Peak region, Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) found a 
nest in "a cavity 5 meters above the gi'ound in a broken lower hmb ot 
a living blue oak. The tree stood near the bottom of a small ravine. 
The nest opening was on top of, and at the end of, a limb which ex- 
tended nearly horizontally from the main trunk for at least 3 meters 
The site was found by tracing the course of the male as it carried food 
to the female at the nest." Two other nests were found m oaks; one 
was "in a natural cavity below a knot hole two meters above the ground 
on the east side of a large, partly living blue oak" ; the other ; was m a 
cavity below a crack in a large limb of a valley oak, and it was at 
least fifteen meters above the ground." 


In the Yosemite section, according to Grinnell and Storer (1924), 
the slender-billed nuthatch "ordinarily makes use of abandoned wood- 
pecker holes for nesting sites." They found two such nests ; the first 
"was 9 feet above the ground in an old hole of the White-headed 
Woodpecker in a broken off and barkless Jeffrey pine stump"; the 
second nest was in another old hole of the same species of woodpecker, 
and was 7 feet from the ground ; the interior of this hole had been 
enlarged by the nuthatches to a diameter of over 5 inches, and was 
filled to within 7^/^ inches of the top, with deer and chipmunk hair 
and feathers from various birds. 

W. E. Griffee writes to me of a nest that he found near Portland, 
Oreg.) that was in a natural cavity only 3i/^ feet up in a small ash tree. 
"The bottom of the cavity, which was about 6 inches in diameter, had 
a heavy layer of grass and moss, and on top of that at least 2 inches 
of rodent fur and a few feathers." 

Incubation. — From the observations of the ornithologists quoted 
above, it seems evident that the female alone performs the duties of 
incubation and remains on the nest for long periods at a time. Refer- 
ring to the second nest, mentioned above, Grinnell and Storer (1924) 
write : 

The female was on tbe nest and as she refused to leave even during the hubbub 
incident to enlarging the entrance, the observer had to lift her from the nest in 
order to examine the eggs. She seemed to be in a sort of lethargy and did not 
struggle until actually taken in hand. That the bird had not left the nest for 
some time was evident from the quantity of excrement which vpas accumulated 
in the cloaca. The condition of this female, the food supply which the male of 
the first nest had been seen to take to his nest, and the further fact that only 
males had been nbted abroad for some days previously, led to the belief that in this 
species the female alone carries on the duties of incubation and that she remains 
upon the nest continuously for a greater or less period of time, during which she 
is fed by the male. 

Fred Evenden writes to me that he saw a male feed its mate in the 
nest 18 times between 2 : 30 and 3 : 49 p. m. ; the female came out of the 
hole only once and perched on a stub for a moment. 

Eggs. — The slender-billed nuthatch has been known to lay 5 to 9 
eggs, but oftener 6 or 7, though sets of 8 are fairly common. The 
eggs probably show all the variations common to the species, but what 
few eggs I have seen have been sparingly marked with small dots. 
The measurements of 40 eggs average 18.5 by 13.9 millimeters; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.0 by 13.5, 17.3 by 15.0, and 
16.5 by 12.2 millimeters. 

Behavior. — White-breasted nuthatches are not, as a rule, gregarious ; 
they are almost always seen singly or in pairs. But a remarkable story 
of communal roosting at night is told by Dr. G. V. Harvey (1902). 
One winter evening he saw 29 of these nuthatches come singly to an 
old dead yellow pine, alight upon a knot, and vanish into a large crack 


in the trunk. "At no time during all the lodgment of these 29 birds, 
did 2 arrive at the same time, nor was there a variation in the time of 
the appearance of any 2 birds of more than 30 seconds." He does not 
state the exact time, which was probably only a few minutes before 
sunset, for these and other birds have a remarkable sense of time, which 
is almost uncanny. 

This wonderful faculty is well illustrated by an observation, or 
series of observations, made by Dr. S. F. Blake (1928), on the regu- 
larity with which a slender-billed nuthatch went to roost under the 
tiles of the roof of a band stand at Palo Alto. "His hour of retiring, 
usually just before the sun disappeared, corresponded in a general 
way with the decrease in the length of day." On nine occasions, from 
June 29 to August 26, the time varied from 10 minutes to 25 minutes 
before sunset, and on only four occasions was it more than 20 minutes. 
"On two occasions, two nuthatches were seen together near the band- 
stand, but only one was ever seen to enter a tile." 

Voice. — The voices of the western races of the white-breasted nut- 
hatch seem to differ somewhat from the well-known calls of our eastern 
bird. Ralph Hoffmann (1927) calls the note of this one "a sharp nasal 
keer, keer,''^ and says further : "When two birds are working together, 
they utter a low quit quit. A high quer is the alarm note about the 
nest. In early spring and summer the male repeats a mellow too too 
too, like the blowing of a little trumpet ; this song is generally given 
from a twig, an unusual perch at any other time." Grinnell and Storer 
(1924) describe this spring song as "a mere monotonous repetition of 
a certain two syllabled word : cher-wer, cher-wer, cher'-wer, etc." 

Dawson (1923) says that it has a variety of notes "all distinguished 
by a peculiar nasal quality." One he mentions, quonk, quonk, quonk, 
or ho-onk, ho-onk, might remind us of the call of the eastern bird; 
but he says that "all the notes of the Slender-billed Nuthatch have 
a softened and subdued character as compared with those of the 
eastern bird." 




If the slender-billed nuthatch has a slender bill, this more recently 
described form from the Panamint and White Mountains of California 
has a much slenderer bill ; hence the appropriate name tenuissima. 

Although originally described from a series of 21 specimens, col- 
lected in the above-mentioned mountains, in Inyo County, Dr. Grin- 
nell (1918) suggested that it "is likely to be found to extend north 
along the western rim of the Great Basin at least to Fort Klamath, 
Oreg." This prophecy has been partially fulfilled by A. J. van Rossem 


(1936) who collected 13 specimens of this nuthatch in the Sheep and 
Charleston Mountains in Nevada and says that it "was found in every 
type of coniferous timber above 8,000 feet. Until the middle of Au- 
gust the birds ranged up to 10,500 feet in the bristle-cone and limber- 
pine forests, but after the first cold weather the higher altitudes were 
almost deserted. On August 19, I saw but one nuthatch above 9,500 
feet and on the 21st none above 9,200 feet, although on both dates they 
were common, chiefly in yellow pines, between 8,000 and 9,000." 

Dr. Grinnell (1918) gives, as the diagnostic characters of the Inyo 
nuthatch: "Similar to Sitta carolinensis aculeata from west-central 
California, but bill much longer and slenderer, size larger, back of 
darker tone of gray, and flanks paler; similar to 8. c. nelsoni from 
southern Arizona, but bill much slenderer, and sides, and lower sur- 
face generally, whiter. * * * In some respects this race is inter- 
mediate between the Rocky Mountain form and that of the Pacific 
coast region, but in the extreme slenderness of bill differs from either." 

Nothing peculiar is mentioned about its habits. 

The eggs of the Inyo nuthatch are probably similiar to those of 
other races of the species. J. Stuart Rowley has sent me the measure- 
ments of a set of seven eggs, which average 19.2 by 13.4 millimeters ; 
the eggs showing the four extremes measure 19.97 by 13.16, 19.23 by 
13.68, and 18.71 by 13.38 millimeters. 




Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1926) described this race and named it in 
honor of Miss Annie M. Alexander, who sponsored the expedition to 
the San Pedro Martir region of Baja California, where this decidedly 
local subspecies was discovered. It seems to be confined to the Transi- 
tion and Canadian Zones in the San Pedro Martir Plateau, between 
latitudes 30° and 31°30', and at altitudes of 6,000 to 8,500 feet, a very 
narrow range. It is widely separated from the San Lucas nuthatch 
by "some 600 miles of forbidding country" ; and there seems to be a 
wide gap between it and the slender-billed nuthatch of California. 

Dr. Grinnell (1926) gives as its characters: "General features of 
size and coloration as in Sitta carolinensis aculeata, but differs from 
this race in much longer wing, tail, and bill, in much broader rectrices, 
in greater proportion of white on rectrices, in broader white-tippings 
to inner primaries, and in slightly darker color-tone of dorsum." He 
says further: "These modifications in the flight equipment of the' 
nuthatches of the San Pedro Martir plateau, it may be suggested, 
have been developed as a result of long existence in the very open 
type of forest there prevalent; the individual trees are far apart as 


compared with the forest stands in which White-breasted Nuthatches 
live in Upper California. This necessitates more extensive flights 
from tree to tree in the usual course of foraging; and numerous 
studies have shown that 'sharpness' as well as length of wing and 
length of tail vary in direct correlation with extent of flight, whether 
in migration or in day-by-day foraging." 




The San Lucas nuthatch was described by William Brewster (1891) 
as "similar to Sitta carolinensis aculeata, but with the wings and 
tail shorter, the black on the tips of the outer tail-feathers more 
restricted." These characters are slight, but constant. The race was 
not recognized at first by the A. O. U. Committee, but the fact that it 
lives in a restricted habitat, near the southern tip of Baja California, 
and the fact that it is separated from its nearest relative, in the San 
Pedro Martir region, by some 600 miles of unsuitable terrain make it 
seem worthy of recognition, as an isolated race. 

Of its distribution and haunts, Mr. Brewster (1902) writes: "The 
St. Lucas Nuthatch is probably confined to the higher mountains south 
of La Paz, where it was first detected by Mr. Belding in 1883. To 
Mr. Frazar, however, is due the credit of collecting a sufficient series 
of specimens to bring out the slight but nevertheless very tangible 
differences which distinguish it from aculeata^ to which Mr. Belding 
very naturally referred it. Mr. Frazar met with it only on the Sierra 
de la Laguna, where, at all seasons, it is a rather common bird in- 
habiting the pine forests at high elevations." 

Specimens collected by Frazar, early in May, were incubating; 
but he evidently found no nests ; and, so far as 1 know, no one else has. 


In naming and describing this form, Nelson and Palmer (1894) 
write : "The White-bellied Nuthatches from the mountains of south- 
central Mexico present certain characteristics by which they may be 
distinguished from either of the two recognized forms of the United 
States. The Mexican bird has a beak averaging rather smaller than 
that of Sitta caroUneruns from the eastern United States. With this 
character it combines the color of the dorsal surface and dark markings 
on tertials of S. aculeata, and differs from both northern forms in 
having only the chin and throat pure white — the rest of the lower 
parts in the present form being washed with a distinct ashy shade, 
heaviest on the flanks and posteriorly." 

758066 — 48 3 


Its range was not fully known at that time, but it is now known 
to include the highlands of Mexico from Oaxaca to Nayarit and 
southern Chihuahua, north to the Chisos Mountains, Tex. Sitta 
carolmensis oherholseri Brandt is now regarded as a synonym of 



Plates &-11 


The red-breasted nuthatch is a happy, jolly little bird, surprisingly 
quick and agile in his motions. He has the habit of progressing over 
the bark of trees like his larger relative, the whitebreast, but his tempo 
is much more rapid, and he extends his journeys more frequently to 
the smaller branches. Here he winds about the little twigs out to 
the end, among the pine needles, moving very fast — up, down, and 
around — changing his direction quickly and easily, seeming always 
in a hurry to scramble over the branches. He is more sociable, too, 
than the larger bird, and when a little company is feeding together 
they keep up a cheery chatter among themselves. We find them at 
their best when gathered in the northern forests at the close of summer. 
Then they give their high, tin- whistle note, hng^ back and forth on all 
sorts of pitches, varying its inflection, ringing unheard of changes 
on this simple call, and when they are together thus, they use also a 
squealing note — a very high, nasal, little piglike or mouselike squeal — 
and a short explosive kick^ or a rapid series of kicks. The effect of 
these notes, given by a dozen birds as they chase one another about, 
is very jolly. The little birds seem so happy, animated, and lively 
and their voices have such a range of expression that they almost 
talk — a playful gathering of talkative, irrepressible, woodland gnomes. 

Spring and courtship. — Cordelia J. Stanwood, of Ellsworth, Maine, 
noted (MS.) that a male bird she had watched during winter appeared 
with a mate in March. "Five years later," she says, "another red- 
breasted nuthatch wintered at 'the sign of the suet', and he also selected 
a mate in March, and so that it would seem that Sitta canadensis 
chooses his helpmeet early in the season. However, even in years in 
which the birds winter here in goodly numbers, the nuthatches are 
not common until April or May. Then in their favorite evergreen 
woods their merry pipings fill the land. They tap all over each dead 
tree to find suitable nesting quarters. Undoubtedly they start nest 
holes in many trees before they find one that is exactly adapted to their 
needs. One season I followed for many days a pair that nested in a 
beautiful tract of mixed woodland. I saw them attempt to excavate 


a cavity in four or more trees before they found the site that best 
suited them." 

Ora W. Knight (1908) says : "I have quite good reasons for believing 
that they remain mated for more than one season and that mated birds 
remain in each others company all the year, rarely associating with 
others in flocks, while it is the young birds of the year, as yet unmated, 
that mingle in flocks with others of their kind as well as related species." 

Of the bird's courtship apparently little is known. On one occasion 
I saw a hint of it. A male strutted before a female in a manner similar 
to the courting pose of the white-breasted nuthatch. The pose was 
maintained but a moment or so and was accompanied with some rapid 
chippering notes. It consisted of a spreading and lowering of the 
wings and a spreading of the tail. There was, too, I think, a slight 
bowing downward and forward of the whole body. 

Gordon Boit Wellman (1933) records a courtship flight which he 
observed on April 6, 1932, in Sudbury, Mass. He says : 

Mrs. Wellman and I were approaching the end of the garden, when a bird 
flew out of a red cedar and, with incredible speed, zigzagged through the bare 
limbs of a large old apple tree. After two or three circular turns in this erratic 
manner through the branches, it dived back into the cedar. Neither of us, 
although we stood just in front of the tree, had the slightest idea what the bird 
was ; immediately the flight was repeated, leaving us as much mystified as before. 
No eye could follow the tremendous speed and sharp turns ; it seemed impossible 
that any bird could do it a second time and avoid striking the irregular branches of 
the apple tree. A third flight followed in 2 or 4 seconds and consisted of a shorter 
performance : this time the bird stopped suddenly on a small branch of the apple 
tree and we saw that it was a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Almost at once a second 
Sitta canadensis, a female, joined the first and the two began investigating 
holes in the old apple trees of the garden. During the flight there were no 
notes from the male; later, when the two birds were together, the usual call 
notes were given intermittently. 

Nesti7ig. — The red-breasted nuthatch usually excavates a cavity for 
its nest in a rotten stub or branch of a dead tree. Sometimes, however, 
it makes use of an old woodpecker's hole, and it has been known to 
breed in bird boxes. 

Manly Hardy (1878) speaks thus of nests found in Maine : 

[One] was in a white-birch stub some 10 feet from the gound ; the entrance was 
IV^ inches wide by 1^ deep. The hole ran slanting for 3 inches, and then straight 
down for 4 inches more. [Another nest] was in a poplar stub some 12 feet from 
the ground. Hole 1% inches by 1 inch, slanting down 4 inches, and then 4 inches 
straight down. * * * Near both the nests were other holes not so deep, prob- 
ably used for one of the birds to occupy while the other is sitting, as is the case 
with most Woodpeckers. Both nests were composed of fine short grasses and 
roots. I notice that in making the hole the bird makes a circle of holes round 
a piece about as large as a 10 cent-piece, and then takes out the piece of bark 
entire. I have one nest which has near it a piece circled in this manner, but not 

Walt/er Bradford Barrows (1912) says: "It does not seem to restrict 


itself SO closely as does the White-breast to the natural cavities of trees, 
but often, perhaps most often, makes use of a deserted woodpecker's 
hole, in which it builds a nest of soft materials." 

Charles W. Michael (1934) , pointing out "the difference in habits in 
the same species of bird in different sections of its nesting range," 
says : 

Here in Yosemite Valley it has been my experience that the Red-breasted 
Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) never occupy old nests of any sort. Each year 
the birds of a pair working in turn excavate a new nest-hole. Often they dig two, 
or three, or possibly four prospect holes before finally deciding on the one that 
is to be the nest-hole of the season. Most often they choose to work in the 
dead wood of a living cottonwood. The second choice of tree is the Kellogg oak, 
but I have also watched a pair of birds drill a nest-hole in the dead stub of a yellow 
pine. In one case the same pine stub was used two different seasons, but in- 
stead of using the old nest-hole, which appeared perfectly good, the birds quite 
ignored it and drilled out a fresh hole. 

I have seen nests of the Red-breasted Nuthatch as low as 5 feet above the 
ground and as high as 40 feet from the ground. The average height of the 
nest-hole above the ground is probably close to 15 feet. 

Henry S. Shaw, Jr. (1916), gives this account of a pair of birds 
that successfully reared a brood of young in a bird box at Dover, 

Mass. : 

On April 10, I noticed a female Red-breast carrying nesting material into one 
of my bird-boxes. This is a Berlepsch box, size No. 2, made by the Audubon Bird 
House Co., of Meriden, N. H. The entrance hole is 1% inches in diameter, and 
the box, which is made of yellow birch, is placed in a white birch tree about 7 
feet from the ground. It was put up in the hope of attracting Chickadees. 

I did not see the male Nuthatch at work until April 16, when I obsei'ved him 
carrying shreds of bark which he pulled from the trunks and limbs of red cedars 
(Jutiipcrus virginiana) growing nearby. Examination of the box after the 
nesting season showed that the nest was composed exclusively of this material, 
the box being filled to within an inch or two of the level of the entrance-hole. 
The male usually left his load at the hole, without entering, and I suppose that 
the material was put in place by the female inside. 

William L. G. Edson and R. E. Horsey (1920) report a similar nest- 
ing in Monroe County, N. Y., in a bird box "placed on an Electric-wire 
pole in the midst of thick hemlocks." 

It is an apparently invariable habit of the red-breasted nuthatch 
to smear with pitch the entrance of its nesting cavity. All the 
descriptions of nests mention this peculiarity, whether the nests are 
in hard wood, pines, or bird boxes. In the northern woods the birds 
use the pitch of the balsam fir and spruce ; farther south they use the 
pitch of pine trees. The pitch as a rule is generously laid on, often 
all around the hole. In Mr. Shaw's nest noted above the pitch was 
added progressively during the nesting season, and Thomas D. Bur- 
leigh (1921) says, writing of the bird in Montana : "The birds continue 
to carry pitch to the entrance of the nest from the time the nest is 
first begun until the young have flown. * * * On June 16 I found 


a nest containing almost fully grown young that was but 2 feet from 
the ground in an old rotten stub and during the 15 minutes that I 
watched the birds they made seven trips to the nest, carrying each 
time not food but pitch which they carefully smeared on any wood 
that was exposed within several inches of the entrance." 

William Brewster (1938), writing of a nest found near Lake 
Umbagog, Maine, says: "This nest was finished today but contained 
no eggs and had but little pitch. Both birds, however, were there, 
and both were hringing 'pitch and plastered it on the bark below the 
hole. I watched them a long time. They brought it on the tips of 
their bills in little globules, alighted against the lower edge of the hole, 
and then tapped it on in various places as low as they could reach, 
but without shifting their foothold." Of another nest in the same 
region he says : "Nest in red maple stub over water ; tree very rotten ; 
height about twenty feet ; hole on west side about two feet from top. A 
quantity of pitch, which my guide pronounced unmistakably spruce^ 
about the entrance and inside its tunnel. Stub standing in five feet of 
water twenty yards from the shore." 

W. Leon Dawson (1923) writes : "Canadian Nuthatches nest at a,ny 
height, and their lack of consideration in this respect accounts for 
much of our relative ignorance. I located a nest, in Seattle, in a 
nearly limbless live fir tree, at a height of 120 feet. Obligations to a 
growing family forbade attention to details. On the other hand, a 
nest taken near Tacoma on the 8th of June, 1906, was found at a 
height of only 7 feet, in a small fir stump. * * * The wood of the 
last-named nesting stub was very rotten, and the eggs rested only 
4 inches below the entrance. The nest-lining, in this instance, was a 
heavy mat an inch in thickness, and was composed of vegetable 
matter — wood fiber, soft grasses, etc., — without hair of any sort." 

Eggs. — [Author's note: The red-breasted nuthatch lays ordinarily 
4 to 7 eggs ; probably 5 or 6 eggs make up the usual set. The eggs vary 
from ovate to rounded-ovate, and have very little or no gloss. The 
ground color is pure white, or more rarely pinkish white or creamy 
white. They are sometimes heavily and sometimes sparingly spotted, 
or finely dotted, with bright reddish brown, such as "ferruginous," 
"hazel," "cinnamon-rufous," or "vinaceous," and some darker shades 
of brown. As a rule they are very pretty eggs. The measurements 
of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum average 15.2 by 
11.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.0 by 
12.5, 15.2 by 12.7, 14.2 by 11.2, and 15.2 by 11.1 millimeters.] 

Towng. — As with most young birds that spend their nest life hidden 
away in cavities, we know little of the development of nestling nut- 
hatches. After their emergence, however, we note a rapid increase 
in strength and activity. Some years ago I watched four young birds 
that had left the nest 5 days before. They were in a white pine a 


hundred yards from the nest, and they moved about easily, sometimes 
hanging back-downward from the branches. They did not venture 
out to the ends of the twigs among the needles (as the parents did 
for food) but remained not far from the trunk. Although the young 
birds picked at the bark of the branches, I could not be sure that they 
gathered any food for themselves. 

We get a hint of the rapidity of the development of very young 
nuthatches from the account of Florence K. Daley (1926) , who reared 
in a cage some young birds from the time when they were "not more 
than a few days old" until they could care for themselves. She fed 
them on bread and milk, water, and "Song Restorer" and after 2 
weeks was able to liberate them safely. 

In the opinion of Cordelia J. Stanwood (MS.), who has studied 
the nesting of the bird extensively at Ellsworth, Maine, the young 
red-breasted nuthatches leave the nest 18 to 21 days after hatching. 
F. L. Burns ( 1921) gives the period of nestling life as 14 days or more, 
and the incubation period (1915) as 12 days. 

Plumages. — [Author's note: The natal down of the young red- 
breasted nuthatch is dark gray. In the juvenal plumage the sexes 
are distinguishable, the young males resembling the adult males and 
the young females resembling the adult females, but all the colors 
are duller. There are faint black edgings on the back, the black 
portions of the head are much duller, the white superciliary stripe, 
chin, and sides of the head are speckled with black, and the under- 
parts are pinkish buff, deepening to pale cinnamon on the crissum. 

A partial postjuvenal molt begins late in July, involving the con- 
tour plumage but not the wings and tail. This produces a first winter 
plumage which is practically adult, the back being a darker, bluish 
gray, the pileum (in the male) glossy black, the w^hite portions of the 
head w^ithout black speckling, and the underparts more richly and 
deeply colored. 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt, mainly in July. There is 
no spring molt, but considerable wear and fading make the spring 
plumage almost as pale as that of the juvenal,] 

Foof/.— Waldo L. McAtee (1926a), summarizing our knowledge of 
the food of the red-breasted nuthatch, says : "Unfortunately we know 
very little about the food of this species. It is very fond of the seeds 
of pines, spruces, and the like, which it takes in lieu of the larger 
mast favored by the Wliite-breast. The animal food is known to 
include beetles, hymenoptera, and spiders, and among forest pests 
it has been observed to feed on the ribbed pine borer {Rhagimn line- 
atvm) . No doubt the Red-breast does its modicum of good to com- 
pensate for the tree seeds which it draws from a store which usually 
is superabundant." 

Ora Willis Knight (1908) speaks of the diet thus: 


Their food consists of about the same run of insects' eggs, insects and larvae as 
is eaten by the White-breasted species. They greatly relish the seeds of tir, spruce, 
and pine and in winter can generally be found feeding in a region where trees of 
these species have seeded abundantly the past season. They deftly pry open the 
scales of the cones, insert their bills and obtain the seed. Maple seed are some- 
times eaten by them. They will also eat bits of rotten apple, suck sap from 
the bleeding stumps of trees, take their share of bits of suet or meat exposed 
and on a pinch eat seed of dock and other weeds which protrude above the 

C. K. Averill, Jr. (1888), emphasizes their fondness for the seeds 
of the black spruce, writing : "In the Northern Adirondacks I noticed 
that the Red-bellied Nuthatches seemed to be feeding exclusively on 
the seeds of the black spruce. After that I watched them for a 
number of days, and although they were abundant, I did not see them 
feeding on anything else. Alighting on a bunch of cones at the 
extremity of a bough, the Nuthatch would insert its bill between the 
scales of a cone and draw out a seed. Then flying to a horizontal 
bough nearby it would detach the wing which adheres to each seed, 
letting it fall to the ground, swallow the seed, and fly back for another." 

Richard F. Miller (1914) describes the bird feeding in beds of 
giant ragweed during the fall migration in northeastern Philadel- 
phia, Pa. He says: "A remarkable feature, to me, about the oc- 
currence of this little Sitta here during that fall, was their habit 
of frequenting water courses fringed with dense growths of giant 
ragweeds (Ambrosia trifida) , in which they sought food on the thick 
stems, petioles and leaves, often feeding close to the ground. I al- 
ways regarded this nuthatch as a denizen of the forest and its oc- 
currence in these weedy growths surprised me. They exhibited no 
fear as I entered the weeds, and if I kept quiet, they fed fearlessly 
within close proximity of me, often only a yard away." 

Edward H. Forbush (1929) states that they "fly off into the air 
after flying insects or search about in the long grass for them" and 
P. M. Silloway (1907) speaks thus of this habit: "The red-breasted 
nuthatch {Sitta canadensis) at times acts like a real flycatcher. Just 
now one alighted on a tree-trunk near me, and while investigating 
the bark crevices, twice he flew out from the trunk, captured a fly- 
ing insect dexterously in the air, and returned to his gleaning on 
the bole." 

Cordelia J. Stanwood (MS.) watched from a blind a pair feeding 
their young in the nest. She says : "They came and went constantly ; 
sometimes caterpillars dangled from their beaks, at other times their 
bills bristled with crane-flies or moths. Once a bird carried in a 
large white grub, at another time the larvae of a spruce bud moth, 
and still again spruce bud moths themselves." 

William Brewster (1938), speaking of a nest in northern Maine, 
says: "Quite regularly at intervals varying from 10 to 15 minutes 


the male came to it with a bill full of insects— large, gauzy-winged 
Diptera they looked like." 

O. A. Stevens, of Fargo, N. Dak. (MS.), writes to Mr. Bent of his 
experiments in feeding a female nuthatch. He says: "To facilitate 
observations, I feed finely chopped nuts in a block on top of the window 
shelf. Three holes in the block allow comparisons of different foods. 
Black walnuts are by all means preferred, but peanuts are quite accept- 
able and constitute the usual fare. English walnuts and pecans rank 
high, the harder almonds and hazelnuts below peanuts. Curiously, 
the soft, oily Brazil nut, which would seem suitable, rates low. It is 
interesting that the birds adopt so readily foods that they could not 
have known before. 

"In feeding, nuthatches are untidy, spearing into the supply and 
scattering the crumbs about. A striking feature of their feeding is 
that they never use their feet as chickadees do continually, but always 
wedge a large piece into some crack while they pick it to pieces. In 
one full day's observation when sunflower seed, walnuts, and peanuts 
were available, I did not see this nuthatch take any sunflower seeds 
although the chickadees were taking them freely." 

Francis H. Allen (MS.) says: "On August 22, 1929, a warm, still 
day when flying insects were probably plentiful, I found many red- 
breasted nuthatches perched on the tops of spruce trees on Grand 
Manan and flying out and catching insects after the manner of fly- 
catchers." He saw one in "West Roxbury, Mass., catching flies in 
October, once from an apple tree and then from the top of a larch. 
He also saw one flying frequently to the ground under a hemlock and 
back into the tree or a shrub, "where he evidently ate or disposed of 
what he had picked up. He was probably getting hemlock seeds, the 
tree being full of cones. He seemed to be making a business of getting 
his food in this way." 

Behavior. — Besides scrambling over the trunks and branches of 
trees in the true nuthatch fashion, this little bird, as we have seen, 
makes excursions out into the air to capture flying insects, and not 
infrequently visits the ground where it hops about or bathes in a little 
pool of rain-water or melted snow. Theed Pearce, in a note to Mr. 
Bent, mentions "a habit, when perched on a small branch, of flirting 
or wagging its tail and back part of its body from side to side. This 
was seen on March 23, and so suggests a form of display." 

Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1913) describes thus the behavior of 
five birds which alighted on a steamship: 

Five of this species, one adult, the others ininiatnre, came on board the steamer 
in a fog and remained on board two days. They were extremely tame and crept 
about the deck, and on the ropes and spars, sometimes within a few inches of 
the passengers. One alighted on the coat-collar of a sailor as he was lighting 
his pipe, and another on my shoulder as I stood on the bridge. I put my hand 


near the adult Nuthatch on the rail and he picked at my finger ; then he flew 
into the captain's cabin and gathered insects from the window. There were 
many small dead moths on board that seemed to be particularly relished. I 
noticed two Nuthatches on the chains of the smoke stack undisturbed by the 
constant vibrations, and, what is still more surprising, by the deafening steam 
fog-horn that was blown at frequent intervals within a few feet of them. 

The habit of flying straight into the nest hole is mentioned by two 
observers: Charles W. Michael (1934) says: "When feeding small 
yomig the parent nuthatch dives on the wing directly into the nest- 
hole," and William Brewster (1938) remarks: "She usually flew in, 
without so much as touching her feet to the edge of the hole." 

William Brewster (1886) speaks thus of the bird in the Black Moun- 
tains of North Carolina in summer: "In the balsams of the Black 
Mountains, from about 5,000 feet to the top of the main ridge (G,000 
feet), this Nuthatch was more abundant than I have ever seen it 
elsewhere. Whenever I stopped to listen or look around its whining, 
nasal call was sure to be one of the first sounds that came to my ears, 
and often three or four different birds would be heard at once. They 
were usually invisible — high in the tops of the matted evergreens, 
but I occasionally caught sight of one hanging head downward at the 
end of a branch, or winding up the main stem of the tree." Walter B. 
Barrows (1912) calls attention to the bird's habit of storing seeds 
"in the punctures made by the Sapsucker in various species of trees." 

Francis H. Allen watched 14 of these nuthatches moving in and 
out of the conifers near his house, in September, of which he (MS.) 
says : "At first I saw one perched on the tiptop of each of two neigh- 
boring Norway spruces. They kept up a constant piping and flicked 
their wings continually — that is, partly spread them. Later others 
appeared and all performed likewise. When they flew from tree to 
tree, it was with an irregular flight. This was probably a species of 
mock courtship." 

Francis Zirrer (MS.) writes to us : "At the feeding table tliey fight 
and angrily chase one another away. They are great hoarders, which 
trait occasionally leads to amusing incidents. The woodpeckers, 
especially the hairy, watch the hoarding with interest, and, as soon 
as the nuthatch leaves to get another piece, fly to the place and appro- 
priate the morsel. This lasts sometimes for quite a while until the 
little bird gets wise and flies away scolding." 

Voice. — Of the two commonest notes of the red-breasted nuthatch 
one is a short, faint little note, heard only when the bird is near. It 
is suggested by the word hit, pronounced emphatically in a whispered 
voice, and is used, apparently, as a conversational note, exchanged 
between a pair of birds or among the members of a flock. To my ear 
it is indistinguishable from the corresponding note of the whitebreast. 
The other commonly heard note is a far-carrying, nasal cry with the 


quality of a blast on a tiny tin trumpet. This note varies greatly in 
length, sometimes being drawn out into a long whine; it may be 
repeated in a very rapid series, or delivered in a slow, regular, delib- 
erate measure. Often written yna, although kng suggests the nasal 
quality better, it corresponds evidently to the sharply pronounced kank 
of the whitebreast. The other notes of the bird, and there are many 
of them (see below), may be regarded, perhaps, as variants, uttered 
under different stresses of emotion, from these two main themes. 

The question as to w hat is the song of the red-breasted nuthatch has 
been ably considered and convincingly answered by Francis H. Allen 
(1932). He says: 

As the true song of the Red-breasted Nuthatch {Sitta canadensis) seems not 
to be generally known and never to have been fully described in the boolis, it 
seems worth while to put on record in "The Auk" as adequate a description as 
I can give of the song as I have heard it this spring of 1932. I have heard the 
song many times between March 27 and May 14 of this year from a bird near my 
house in West Roxbury, as well as on two occasions from two other birds in other 
places in eastern Massachusetts. The song when I firet heard it (March 27) 
was so strongly suggestive of that of the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta caro- 
Imensis carolinensis) , yet so different in tone, that though I could not at the time 
follow up the bird to identify it, I had little doubt that it was a Red-bi-easted 
Nuthatch. On April 6 I heard the song again and was then able to connect it 
definitely with Sitta canadensis, for I saw the bird in the act of singing. After 
that and up to the time when the bird left us, presumably for his breeding-haunts 
farther north, I heard the song frequently, and I never had any difiiculty in 
distinguishing it from that of its white-breasted cousin, which I also heard 
nearby not infrequently. The song resembles the familiar tva-ica-wa-wa, etc., or 
what-ichat-what-what, etc., of the other species, but it is more rapid and higher- 
pitched and possesses a reedy quality unlike the smooth, liquid tone of the 

And he adds : "To my ears the note repeated is not at all the familiar 
'nasal hank^ of the call-note but a much softer note that is not particu- 
larly nasal." 

Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) speaks of the song thus : "Only once have 
I heard anything from this bird that one could call a song. At Flat- 
head Lake, Mont., July 1914, a bird called, day after day, a long yaaaaa 
yaaaaa yaaaaa^ just like its usual voice in quality, but much prolonged, 
usually three yaas in succession, and then a short pause. The sound 
was so persistent that it became monotonous and almost irritating. I 
found the bird sitting on a twig beside a stub with a hole in it (appar- 
ently its nest) , with its head up in the attitude of song as it called." 

Harrison F. Lewis (MS.) sends to Mr. Bent the following compre- 
hensive list of the notes he has heard the bird utter : " ( 1) The common, 
well-known yna yna, yna, yna. (2) Zeee, zeee, zeee; zeee, zeee, zeee, 
like the notes of a katydid. This is used by the male when scold- 
ing an intruder near the nest, and when chasing a rival. (3) Biddy- 
hiddy-hiddy-Uddy, etc., the notes being run off quite fast in long 


series, with brief pauses between the series. This is also a scolding 
note of the male. (4) A long trill, like the song of a toad. This was 
uttered by the male when chasing his mate. (5) A loud, prolonged 
twitter. This was uttered by the male while near his mate. (6) A fine 
it^ if, if, if, etc. I have recorded this for the female only. (7) An in- 
quiring little ehf ehf eh? This was uttered by both sexes when I was 
offering them suet, and they were near me, but were not quite sure 
whether or not they should trust me. (8) A peep, peep, peep, etc., 
]ike the note of a young biM begging for food. This was uttered by 
the female, when she, with fluttering wings, sat on a limb near where 
the male was eating suet, but I could not see that either bird paid any 
particular attention to the other at this time. (9) A true song, which 
I have heard but once, viz, about 6 o'clock on the morning of March 
26, 1920, near Quebec, P. Q. It consisted of the ordinary loud yna, 
yna, given very fast in short series, or runs, almost trills. It was much 
like the early morning singing of the chipping sparrow, the notes 
being uttered about as rapidly in each brief series, and the individual 
series being of about the same length, but the intervals between the 
series were a little longer in the case of the nuthatch. Singing con- 
tinued for 2 or 3 minutes, while another red-breasted nuthatch twit- 
tered excitedly in a nearby tree." 

Bradford Torrey (1904) , in this pretty passage, lets us hear, through 
his ears, the sound of the nuthatches' voice in a New Hampshire for- 
est : "There is seldom a minute when, if I pause to listen, I cannot hear 
from one direction or another the quaint, homely, twangy, countryfied, 
yet to me alwaj^s agreeable voice of Canadian nuthatches. At fre- 
quent intervals one or two come near enough so that I see them creep- 
ing about over the trees, bodies bent, heads down, always in search of 
a mouthful, yet keeping up, every one, his share of the universal 
chorus." And later: "On all sides the little nuthatches were calling 
to each other in their quaint childish treble." 

Field marks. — The red-breasted nuthatch is a trim, stylish-looking 
little bird ; the dark line through the eye adds a distinction to its ap- 
pearance that the whitebreast lacks ; the blue-gray, black, and tawny 
coloring makes a pleasing artistic combination, and the diminutive 
tail supplies a piquant effect. 

Enemies. — ^Although this nuthatch is exposed to the vicissitudes 
that beset most small birds, it is an abundant and widely spread spe- 
cies. Doubtless its quickness and agility as well as the protection 
that thick evergreen growth affords render it comparatively safe. 

Joe T. Marshall, Jr. (1942) , lists a red-breasted nuthatch as having 
been found in a pellet of the spotted owl. 

Fall and winfer. — As autumn draws near, those of us who live near 
the Atlantic seaboard to the south of the Canadian forests are on the 
alert to detect the earliest sign that the red-breasted nuthatches have 


left their northern homes and are on their way to visit us. For in 
any year they may move southward in fall, or they may elect to re- 
main in the north through the winter, their movements depending, 
apparently, on the state of the cone crop. We begin to look and listen 
for them early in August and, if it is to be a nuthatch year, we have 
not long to wait before we hear the little trumpet call and see the 
tiny birds romping and rollicking through the woodlands. 

They are very common near the seacoast, especially during the early 
days of the flight. I remember that Dr. Charles W. Townsend and I 
found many of them in 1923 gathered in the little patches of pitch 
pines scattered among the Ipswich sandhills, and William Brewster 
(1906) speaks of them on their first arrival as occurring "on barren 
points or islands along the seacoast, where they may be started in 
beds of beach grass or watched climbing over the surfaces of lichen- 
covered boulders and cliffs." 

William Dutcher (1906) gives an account of an extensive flight in 
New York State thus : 

During a vacation spent on Fire Island Beach, New York, in September, a 
remarkable migration of tliese birds was observed. Point o' Woods is a cottage 
settlement, on the barrier beach, at this point about 1,000 feet wide, between the 
ocean and Groat South Bay, which is here eight miles wide. The soil is sand- 
covered with a rank growth of weeds of various kinds, low bushes, scrub-oaks 
and small pines. On the night of September 20, it was very damp, with a mod- 
erate southwest wind and a number of showers. On the morning of the 21st 
the wind still continued southwest, very moderate, with a temperature of 74° 
at 7 a. m. During the night there must have been a great flight of Red-breasted 
Nuthatches, for they were seen on the morning of the 21st in large numbers. 
They remained all that day, although there seemed to be a steady movement 
to the west, which here is the autumn direction of migration. During the night 
of the 21st, we had more showers, and on the 22d, the wind was strong south- 
east, with some rain. There was a large migration of small birds during the 
night, as the bushes were full of Towhees, Cuckoos and Kingbirds, and the Red- 
breasted Nuthatches were more numerous than the day before. They out- 
numbered the sum total of all the otlier small migrants. On the 23d, large 
numbers of them still were in evidence, but not so many as on the 22d, and 
on the 24th only a few were seen. 

The flight covered three days — 21st to 23d — while on the 24th the stragglers 
brought up the rear, a lone laggard being seen on the 2oth. At the height of the 
migration, Nuthatches were seen everywhere, — on the buildings, on trees, bushes, 
and weeds and even on the ground. They were remarkably tame and would per- 
mit a near approach ; if the observer were seated they would come within a 
few feet of him. They crept over the roofs and sides of the houses, examining 
the crevices between the shingles ; they searched under the cornices on the piaz- 
zas and in fact looked into every nook and corner that might be the hiding- 
place of insects. 

Every tree had its Nuthatch occupant, while many of them evidently found 
food even on the bushes and larger weeds. On a large abandoned fish factory 
at least 50 of these birds were seen at one time. The proprietor of one of the 
hotels told me that five of the birds were in his building catching flies, they 
having come in through the open doors and windows. 


L. B. Potter (MS.) thus writes to Mr. Bent of a conspicuous flight 
in western Canada : "In the fall of 1919 in this district [of Eastend, 
extreme southwestern Saskatchewan] I witnessed a most remarkable 
invasion of red-breasted nuthatches. The little birds could be seen 
anywhere and everywhere, outside and inside farm buildings, among 
the sage brush in open country, as well as in the woods." 

Swales and Taverner (1907) report the bird very common in the 
fall of 1906. They say : "September 1 to 3 they were common at Point 
Pelee, and still more so from the 15th to the 22d, and October 15 vast 
numbers were seen there. They were eveiywhere, in the hard woods^ 
hanging head downwards from the tips of the long branches, in the 
orchards, creeping over the trunks, and in the red cedar thickets ; but 
by far the largest numbers were towards the end of the Point on the 
edge of a waste clearing where every dead and dry mullen stalk had 
several of their little blue forms upon it. There seemed to be hundreds 
in sight at one time." 

Winton Weydemeyer (1933) speaks of the winter range of the bird 
in Montana thus : 

My observations on the range of the Red-breasted Nuthatch in winter have 
been limited to Lincoln County ; but over the rest of the adjoining area described 
above its habits are probably similar. In winters when the birds occur as 
commonly as in summer, they may be found locally in all the forest types which 
they frequent during the breeding, season, showing the same preference for fir- 
larch woods in the Ti'ansition zone and heavily-forested high valleys and basins 
in the Canadian zone. During winters when most of the nuthatches have mi- 
grated from the region, a few remain throughout the season in the Hudsonian and 
upper Canadian zones, even when they are entirely absent from the Transition 
and Canadian zone forests of the lower valleys and foothills. 


Range. — Central Canada to southern United States. The range 
appears to be divided into two discontinuous regions, as from Sas- 
katchewan to Texas it occurs only as a migrant or stray. It is a bird 
of the coniferous forests, and it is possible that this gap between the 
two ranges may be bridged in the northern forest from which no 
records are at present available, since it occurs as an uncommon mi- 
grant through southern Saskatchewan. 

Breeding range. — In the west the species ranges north to southern 
Alaska (Chitina Moraine and Skagway, probably breeding) ; Yukon 
(junction of the Pelly and Lewes Rivers, and Squanya Lake) ; south- 
ern Mackenzie (Fort Simpson). East to southern Mackenzie (Fort 
Simpson), Alberta (McMurray and Camrose) ; and south through 
the mountains to eastern Wyoming (Laramie) ; Colorado (Brecken- 
ridge and Fort Garland) ; and southeastern Arizona (Wliite Moun- 
tains, Mount Graham, and the Santa Catalina Mountains). South to 
southeastern Arizona (Stata Catalina Mountains) ; and California 


(Bear Lake and Point Pinos) ; West to California (Bear Lake and 
Point Pinos) and northward through the Sierra-Nevada and Cascades 
of Oregon and Washington to British Columbia (Kispiox and Atlin) ; 
and Alaska (Cliitina Moraine). 

The eastern range is north to Manitoba (Echimamish Kiver and 
Knee Lake) ; central Ontario (Moose Factory) ; Quebec (Godbout and 
the Mingan Islands) ; and Newfoundland (Cape St. George and pos- 
sibly St. Anthony). East to Newfoundland (possibly St. Anthony) ; 
Massachusetts (Gloucester and Canton) ; New York (Orient, Adiron- 
dack and Catskill Mountains) ; and south through the mountains to 
North Carolina (Roan Mountain and Mount Mitchell). South to 
North Carolina (Mount Mitchell), and Tennessee (Cosby Knob); 
northeastern Ohio (Mentor) ; northern Michigan (Wequetonsing and 
Douglas Lake); and Wisconsin (Pine Lake). West to Wisconsin 
(Pine Lake and Perkinstown) ; Minnesota (Duluth and Clear Lake) ; 
and IManitoba (Elk Island, Lake Winnipeg, and Echimamish River). 

Winter range. — The species sometimes occurs in winter almost as 
far north as it breeds. It winters fairly regularly north to southern 
British Columbia (Vancouver Island and Okanagan Lake) ; Sas- 
katchewan (one in December at Cumberland Lake) ; Manitoba (Lake 
St. Martin and Winnipeg) ; Quebec (Montreal and Godbout) ; and 
Nova Scotia (Antigonish). East to Nova Scotia (Antigonish) and 
the Atlantic coast States to North Carolina (Raleigh). South to 
North Carolina (Raleigh) ; Tennessee (Chattanooga and Memphis) ; 
casually northern Florida (Fernandina and Pensacola) ; rarely 
Louisiana (Monroe and Bienville) ; Texas (San Antonio, Knicker- 
bocker and El Paso) ; New Mexico (Carlsbad) ; and southern Cali- 
fornia (Redlands and Santa Barbara). West to California (Santa 
Barbara and Redlands) and the Pacific coast to British Columbia 
(Vancouver Island). 

Spring migration.— Lute dates of spring departure from the win- 
ter home are: Georgia— Dalton, April 28. Mississippi— Bay St. 
Louis, April 1. Texas— San Antonio, March 25. North Carolina- 
Raleigh, April 25. Virginia— Lynchburg, April 30. District of Co- 
lumbia—Washington, May 20. Tennessee— Nashville, May 14. Ken- 
tucky—Bowling Green, May 4. Ohio— Oberlin, May 29. Indiana— 
Notre Dame, May 23. Illinois— Chicago, May 15. Missouri— St. 
Louis, May 18. Iowa— Keokuk, May 13. Kansas— Topeka, May 3. 
Nebraska — Omaha, May 8. 

Early dates of spring arrival are : Massachusetts— Amherst, March 
28. Vermont— Burlington, March 27. Maine— Ellsworth, March 
15. New Brunswick— Scotch Lake, April 1. Quebec— Cap Tour- 
mente, April 28. Ohio— Cleveland, March 1. Ontario— London, 
March 14. Indiana— Indianapolis, March 7. Michigan— Grand 
Rapids, March 13. Iowa— Iowa City, March 12. Wisconsin— Madi- 


son, March 26. Minnesota — Minneapolis, March 26. South Dakota — 
Yankton, April 14. North Dakota — Fargo, April 28. Colorado — 
Denver, March 10. Wyoming — Laramie, May 2. Montana — Mis- 
soula, March 24. Oregon — Pinehurst, March 2. Washington — Ta- 
coma, April 10. Manitoba — Aweme, May 6. Saskatchewan — Regina, 
April 30. Alberta — Glenevis, April 15. Mackenzie — Fort Simpson, 
April 17. Alaska — Egg Harbor, May 17. 

Fall migration. — Late dates of fall departure are : Alberta — Glene- 
vis, October 10. Saskatchewan — Eastend, October 1. Manitoba — 
Aweme, November 27. Washington — Pullman, October 2. Oregon — 
Portland, November 17. Montana — Fortine, October 26. Wyo- 
ming — Laramie, October 20. Colorado — Walden, October 4. North 
Dakota — Fargo, October 25. South Dakota — Aberdeen, October 29. 
Minnesota — Minneapolis, October 29. Wisconsin — Racine, Novem- 
ber 15. Iowa — Cedar Falls, November 18. Ontario — Guelph, Novem- 
ber 15. Michigan — Sault Ste. Marie, November 11. Quebec — 
Montreal, October 8. Nova Scotia — Sable Island, November 5. 
Maine — Unity, November 28. Massachusetts — Marthas Vineyard, 
November 13. 

Early dates of fall arrival are: Wisconsin — Madison, August 28. 
Nebraska — Lincoln, September 4. Kansas — Manhattan, October 4. 
Iowa — National, September 9. Missouri — St. Louis, September 4. 
Illinois — Glen Ellyn, August 29. Indiana — Indianapolis, September 
15. Kentucky — ^Lexington, September 17. Tennessee — Nashville, Oc- 
tober 7. Ohio — Canton, August 29. District of Columbia — ^Washing- 
ton, August 22. Virginia — Salem, October 1. North Carolina — 
Chapel Hill, October 4. Georgia — Atlanta, October 11. Alabama — 
Greensboro, October 4. Florida — Fernandina, November 1. 

Casual records. — One was observed near Churchill, Manitoba, on 
August 4, 1934 ; Bermuda Islands, a specimen was taken previous to 
1884. On Guadalupe Island, Baja California, there is a small resi- 
dent colony, quite isolated from other breeding areas, as it has never 
been recorded on the mainland of Baja California. 

Egg dates. — California : 10 records. May 13 to June 13. 

Maine : 14 records. May 20 to June 21. 

Nova Scotia : 7 records. May 5 to June 5. 

Washington : 14 records, April 30 to June 25. 





The above name is now restricted to the northern race of the brown- 
headed nuthatch, with a range entirely north of the Florida boundary ; 


it breeds along the Atlantic slope as far north as southern Delaware, in 
the Gulf States as far west as eastern Texas, and up the Mississippi 
Valley as far as eastern Arkansas and southern Missouri. 

Its favorite haunts are in the pine woods, especially in the more 
open parts and in the clearings and burnt-over areas, where it finds a 
number of old stumps in which to excavate its nest; but it is found 
also to some extent in mixed forests of pines and hardwoods and in 
some of the small cypress swamps in such woods. M. P. Skinner 
(1928) says that, in North Carolina, he has found it "on the trunks of 
loblolly pines, long-leaf pines, shrub oaks, gums and hardwood trees 
of various kinds." 

Dr. Eugene E. Murphey (1937) says that, in the middle Savanna 
Valley, it "prefers open pine woods and deadenings and seems to have 
a particular fondness for large pines which have been riven by light- 
ning. Within the last 15 years, many areas of impounded water have 
been created, some for power, others for fishing, with the resultant 
death of the trees where the water level has been raised. In a short 
time the bark falls from these trees leaving a denuded, decaying trunk 
which seems to be most attractive as a nesting site. Six nests were 
found so located in a pond of not more than fifty acres in extent in 
Richmond County, Georgia, 1920." 

Nesting. — The brown-headed nuthatch builds its nest in a tree, 
stump, or post, which apparently is usually, if not invariably, par- 
tially or wholly excavated by the birds themselves. I can find little 
evidence that it occupies old holes of the woodpeckers, but it may en- 
large a natural crevice or cavity. The height from the ground varies 
from 2 to 50 feet, wherever it can find the right conditions ; but most 
of the nests recorded have been far below the higher figure, nearly all 
of them at less than 10 feet above ground. A preference seems to be 
shown for pines or pine stubs, often fire-blackened stumps, and for 
dead trees. Nests have been found in a dead apple-tree stump, a birch 
stub, a pear tree, an ash tree, and probably in several other kinds of 
trees. The cavity is usually excavated to a depth of from 6 to 9 inches, 
uncommonly more or less. This is sometimes filled with only dry 
grasses and weed stems, but more often with strips of inner bark, chips 
of wood, wool, cotton, strips of corn husks, and perhaps a few feathers ; 
the leaves of pine seeds are favorite nesting material and are found in 
many nests, sometimes forming the entire nest. Frequently the nest 
hole is excavated in a fence post, a gate post, or a telegraph or tele- 
phone pole. 

Nesting begins early ; both birds take part in excavating the holes ; 
and often several holes are started before one is finally selected for the 
nest. Mr. Skinner (1928), in the sandhills of North Carolina, on 
March 16, 1927, "found a pair industriously digging in the dead stub 


of a small gum tree standing on the shore of a small lake. This stub 
was 12 feet high and 8 inches in diameter, and the birds were at work 
8 feet above the ground. The digging bird (and only one worked at 
any one time) worked in all positions, but really preferred to hang 
head downward from the trunk above the hole ; even when working 
in this position, it did not touch its tail to the bark, except accidentally. 
This Nuthatch gave its strokes like a woodpecker, but slower and at 
a rate of about 50 strokes a minute for at least 30 minutes. Then its 
mate came and relieved it. Although these birds were small, their 
digging strokes were powerful and could be heard quite a distance, 
perhaps as much as 200 yards, and had a rhythmical beat." 

C. S. Brimley (Pearson, Brimley, and Brimley, 1919) made some 
notes on the time required by four pairs of brown-headed nuthatches 
to make and line their nests and lay their eggs: "The first pair I 
noted had finished digging out the hole and had commenced to line 
it on March 22. Sixteen days later the nest contained four fresh 
eggs. Pair No. 2 had just begun building on April 16, and in 10 
days more the nest was finished and fresh eggs laid. Pair No. 3 
worked for 22 days on one hole, and when I then lost patience and 
broke it out to see what they had done, they had not even started 
to line it. They then commenced on another stump, and in 22 more 
days had the excavation completed, lined, and three eggs laid. Pair 
No. 4 dug a hole, lined it, and laid three eggs in 13 days." 

Arthur T. Wayne (1910) says that, in South Carolina, "the hole, 
which is excavated by both sexes, ranges from 6 inches to 90 feet 
above the ground, and is generally dug in a dead pine stump or tree, 
tliough sometimes a fence post is used. * * * The nest is con- 
structed chiefly of the leaf-like substance in which the seeds of the 
pine are enclosed, and I have often wondered at the infinite number 
of trips the birds make in carrying, one at a time, these soft and 
delicate pine seed-wings." 

Charles K. Stockard (1905) writes thus of the nesting habits of 
this nuthatch in Mississippi : 

In the old pine deadenings of Adams County this small bird was found nesting 
in considerable numbers. They dug their own burrow but it was a badly botched 
affair, nothing about it suggesting the even smoothness of a woodpecker's hollow. 
The Nuthatch makes a small entrance through the bark of a dead snag, then 
usually, rather than burrow into the stump itself, they scooped out an irregular 
cavity by removing the soft wood that generally lies just under tlie bark. This 
burrow ran a crooked course but generally extended 10 or 15 inches below the 
entrance. In this cavity they placed a nest of soft fibers, moss, cotton, and 
wool. The burrows were usually only a few feet from the ground but one was 
found 12 feet up. * * * On one occasion when the bark was pulled away 
exposing a nest while the female sat upon it, she could not be made to leave until 
pushed off with my finger. 

7580G6— 48 4 


Eggs. — Nests of the brown-headed nuthatch have been reported to 
contam as few as three eggs and as many as nine, but the prevailing 
numbers are five or six, most commonly five. The eggs are ovate or 
rounded-ovate in shape, and they have practically no gloss. The 
ground color is usually white, but sometimes light creamy or buffy 
white. They are usually more heavily or more profusely marked than 
are the eggs of other nuthatches and are often very handsome. The 
markings may consist of fine dots evenly distributed, or small spots 
or blotches more or less concentrated about the larger end ; rarely the 
ground color is largely obscured by the heavier markings. The pre- 
vailing colors of the markings are various shades of reddish brown, 
"ferruginous" or "cinnamon-rufous"; some eggs are quite heavily 
blotched with "chestnut"; and some show underlying spots or small 
blotches of various shades of lavender or "plumbeous." The measure- 
ments of 50 eggs average 15.5 by 12.3 millimeters ; eggs showing the 
four extremes measure 16.7 by 12.6, 15.2 by 14.2, 14.1 by 12.3, and 16.6 
by 11.4 millimeters. 

Young. — ^The period of incubation is said to be about 14 days, and 
Wayne (1910) says that both sexes share this duty; the male some- 
times calls the female oft the nest while she is incubating. According 
to Mr. Wayne (1910), only one brood is raised in a season. Both 
parents help to feed the young in the nest and for some time after 
they leave it, while they continue to travel about in the tree tops in 
family parties. Dr. Francis Harper (1929) describes such a family 
party as follows : 

About 5 p. m. on April 10 I noticed a number of Brown-headed Nut-hatches 
among some pines in an old field. Presently three or four of them huddled 
together a couple of feet from the tip of a long limb 35 feet from the ground. 
The limb was well provided with twigs and needles. Then a couple of others 
began visiting those lined up on the limb and feeding them. I was astounded 
to realize that fledglings were abroad thus early in the season. Sometimes the 
adults passed over the food from a perch on the same level, but about as often 
as not they clung to the under side of the limb in acrobat fashion and fed the 
youngsters from below. 

By degrees several more came and lined up on the limb, till there were finally 
six, if not seven, all touching each other in close array. Some faced in one 
direction, some in the other. They kept up a gentle, musical twittering. The 
adults often gave their loudest call (a nasal, twanging knee-tnee; knee-tnee-tnee) 
as they searched the pine cones, limbs, and trunks for food. They also gave, 
while so engaged, a much lower, conversational note : pik. Once in a while one 
of them would hammer some piece of food on a limb, in the manner of one of the 
larger species of nuthatches. 

Up to about 5 : 30 p. m. the old birds fed the youngsters assiduously, returning 
every half minute or so. Then, when the latter were pretty well quieted, though 
the sun had scarcely set, the old birds disappeared for some minutes. Eventually 
they returned, but did not go to the young ones, merely feeding industriously in 
the adjacent trees. All this was so like a human family, where the babies are 
given an early supper and put to bed, after which the parents can attend to 
some of their own wants. 


I waited till after 6 o'clock to see if the adults might not join their brood, but 
apparently that was not their intention. * * * it seemed strange that a 
hole-nesting species should roost thus in the open. 

Aretas A. Saunders tells me that, at a nest he watched in Alabama, 
"both parents fed the young, each showing its individuality by ap- 
proaching the nest from a different direction than the other. They 
carried insects in their bills, but only a few measuring worms could 
be identified. They removed excreta from the nest and carried it 

Plumages. — I have seen no very young nestlings of this nuthatch. 
The Juvenal plumage is fully acquired before the young birds leave 
the nest. In this plumage the young bird is similar to the adult, but 
the coloration is duller and paler. The brown of the head and neck 
is grayer, or nearly all gray, and the white nuchal patch is indistinct 
or obsolete; the greater wing coverts are edged with pale brownish 
buff; the white in the tail is less extensive; and the underparts are 
more extensively and more deeply washed with brownish buff. After 
the postjuvenal molt, in summer, the young bird becomes practically 
indistinguishable from the adult. 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt, beginning in July, after 
which in fresh plumage, the brown of the head is darker, and the 
underparts are more extensively and more decidedly buffy than in 
spring birds ; these colors fade more or less before winter. The sexes 
are alike in all plumages. 

Food. — I can find no very extensive analysis of the food of the 
brown-headed nuthatch. The bird is mainly insectivorous, searching 
diligently in the crevices of the bark on the trunks and branches of 
the pines for its food, even out to the tips of the twigs and among the 
needles. It forages, also, on many other kinds of trees, old stumps, 
fence posts, telegraph poles, buildings, or anywhere else that it can 
find insects or spiders hidden in nooks and corners. It seems to be 
especially fond of pine seeds, fragments of which are generally found 
in such stomachs as have been examined. 

Arthur H. Howell (1924) says that "10 stomachs from Alabama 
examined in the Biological Survey contained remains of beetles, bugs, 
cockroaches, caterpillars, ants and other Hymenoptera, scale insects, 
and fragments of pine seeds." Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1938) states 
that, in Louisiana, "the food of this bird consists chiefly of insects, 
which include moths, grasshoppers, beetles, many of these injurious 
kinds ; ants, caterpillars, and scale insects ; also pine seeds and spiders." 
These, like all the other nuthatches, are very useful protectors of the 
trees and do no damage of consequence. 

Behavior. — Unlike the rather solitary red-breasted species, the 
brown-headed nuthatch is a decidedly sociable bird. During most of 
the year, except when the pairs are busy with their nesting activities, 


these nuthatches are almost gregarious ; family groups or small parties 
of them may be seen trooping through the tree tops, chattering in 
friendly conversational tones, but each one apparently intent on its 
own vocation. They seem never still but are always full of life and 
restless activity. In their behavior they remind me of the red-bellied 
nuthatch, as they forage through the upper branches out to the ends 
of the terminal twigs, often hanging head downward from a bunch 
of pine needles. Like all the nuthatches, they are expert at creeping 
either up or down the trunks, often in an inverted position, or at 
exploring the under sides of branches. Mr. Skinner (1928) says: "In 
all this climbing, they move by short hops, generally with their bodies 
turned a little to one side or the other, and they may turn after going 
a few feet with their bodies turned one way, so that the other side is 
then uppermost. Occasionally, they perch crosswise on a twig and 
may rest motionless for some time in such a position. 

"These little birds are very tame and friendly. When in pairs, 
they are devoted to each other. * * * Generally, they fly from 
tree to tree with a gentl}'^ undulating flight, but with strong and rapid 

Voice. — The voice of the brown-headed nuthatch is quite unlike 
that of either of the northern nuthatches and has been variously in- 
terpreted. There is a familiar nuthatch quality in the ordinary cha, 
cha, cha, or cah, cah, cah, or the short pit, pit; we know what kind of 
a bird to look for when we hear it coming to us from the tree tops in 
the lonesome pine barrens. 

Mr. Skinner (1928) writes: "Perhaps these nuthatches do not 'talk' 
as much as some others. Yet, I have heard them utter a sweet little 
'pri-u, de-u, de-u,' quite like a song, in the mating season. They also 
have a number of chirps and kissing notes, and a 'dee-dee-dee' com- 
parable to a Chickadee's note. A lively twitter is the call of one 
Brown-headed Nuthatch for its mate." 

Dr. Chapman (1912) says: "They are talkative sprites, and, like a 
group of school children, each one chatters away without paying the 
slightest attention to what his companions are saying. When feeding 
they utter a liquid, conversational p^it-pit, a note which is accelerated 
and emphasized as the birds take wing. At intervals, even when the 
individuals of a troop are quite widely separated, they all suddenly 
break out into a thin, metallic dee-dee-dee or tnee-tnee-tnee.'''' 

William Brewster (1882b) calls their usual utterance '•''whick-whick- 
whee'e'e whick-whicker-whickei'.'''' And Nathan Clifford Brown 
(1878) writes: "While busily in search of food they have a subdued, 
conversational chatter which almost exactly resembles the notes usu- 
ally uttered by the Goldfinch when similarly employed. Rather 
curiously, the two species have another call in common : the most f re- 


quent cry of the Nuthatch is remarkably like the Goldfinch's meditative 
heyr-heh., — indeed, I have sometimes mistaken one for the other. Both 
sexes of the present bird have several other call-notes, all of which are 
characterized by a certain reedy harshness rendering them quite unlike 
the usual utterances of the two Northern species of the genus." 

Field marks. — This small nuthatch could hardly be mistaken for the 
larger white-breasted species, and it is so plainly colored that it could 
easily be distinguished from the more conspicuously marked red- 
breasted nuthatch. 

Winter. — The brown-headed nuthatch seems to be a permanent resi- 
dent even in the more northern portions of its range ; in North Carolina, 
Mr. Skinner (1928) found "no variation in numbers during the winter 
or the migration seasons of other birds." I can find no evidence of 
migration elsewhere, and apparently the birds remain all winter in 
or near their breeding haunts, with only limited wanderings into 
neighboring open spaces, or occasionally into the trees of villages and 
towns. They are much in evidence in winter, when they are associated 
in bands of from half a dozen to two dozen birds, made up of one or 
several families. These jolly bands of active playful birds are inter- 
esting to watch, as they chase each other about, almost never still, as 
if too full of energy and vitality. At this season they often join the 
loose gatherings of kinglets, titmice, pine warblers, bluebirds, and 
small woodpeckers that are roaming through the woods in winter, 
though such associations are probably due more to chance than to 


Range. — Southeastern United States ; nonmigratory. 

The brown-headed nuthatch breeds north to Arkansas (Newport) ; 
southeastern Missouri (possibly Ink, Shannon County) ; northern 
Mississippi (luka) ; northwestern South Carolina (Spartanburg) ; 
eastern Virginia (Amelia and Petersburg) ; eastern Maryland (Queen 
Annes County); and southern Delaware (Seaford). East to the 
Atlantic coast and Bahama Islands (Great Bahama). South to 
southern Florida (Royal Palm Hammock) and the Gulf coast. West 
to eastern Texas (Houston) and Arkansas (Newport). 

The entire species as above outlined is divided into three subspecies 
or geographic races. The typical brown-headed nuthatch {S. 'p. pus- 
ilia) occupies all of the continental range except Florida, where the 
birds have been described as the gray-headed nuthatch {S. p. caniceps) . 
The birds of the Bahamas are a separate race. 

Casual records. — Several were seen near Keokuk, Iowa, in May 1893 ; 
a specimen was taken at St. Louis, Mo., on May 6, 1878; a specimen 
was obtained at Elmira, N. Y., May 24, 1888 ; while one was observed 
closely at Haddonfield, N. J., during the winter, about 1876. 


Egg dates.— GQOvg\£i\ 22 records, March 11 to July 20; 11 records, 
March 24 to April 11, indicating the height of the season. 

Florida : 19 records, March 4 to May 10; 10 records April 2 to 14. 
North Carolina : 19 records, April 4 to May 29. 
Texas : 5 records, March 8 to April 18. 




The brown-headed nuthatch of peninsular Florida has now become 
the gray-headed nuthatch, not because it has grown gray with old 
age, and not because its head is very decidedly gray at that, but be- 
cause the keen eyes of its describer have noted this and other minor 
differences. Outram Bangs (1898) gives it the following subspecific 
characters: "Size smaller than S. pusilJa pusiUa; bill larger; top of 
head much lighter brown, the feathers tipped and edged still lighter 
— often grayish ; loral and post-ocular streak dark brown, in marked 
contrast to color of top of head; white spot on nape usually less 
extensive ; under parts slightly darker, more plumbeous." 

The gray-headed nuthatch is recorded by Arthur H. Howell (1932) 
as "an abundant resident in northwestern Florida; moderately com- 
mon in the central and southern parts." It has been taken at least 
as far south as Miami. Its home is in the extensive open pine forests 
of the State, known as the "flatwoods." The northern tourist, seek- 
ing a winter sojourn in Florida, rides in the southbound train for 
hour after hour with nothing to see from the car window but appar- 
ently endless miles of uninteresting fiat pine barrens, until he wearies 
of the monotony. He does not appreciate the intriguing vastness 
of these almost boundless flatwoods; nor does he admire the stately 
beauty of tlie longleaf pines and the picturesque charm of the Carib- 
bean pines. Only the naturalist fully appreciates them, for "there is 
a nameless charm in the flatwoods, there is enchantment for the real 
lover of nature in their very sameness. One feels a sense of their 
infinity as the forest stretches away into space beyond the limits of 
vision ; they convey to the mind a feeling of boundless freedom. The 
soft, brilliant sunshine filters down through the needle-like leaves 
and falls in patches on the flower covered floor ; there is a low, hum- 
ming sound, something mimicking the patter of raindrops, as the 
warm southeast wind drifts through the trees; even the loneliness 
has an attraction," as so well expressed by Charles Torrey Simp- 
son (1923). 

One may wander for many miles through these parklike woods, 
along the winding, grass-grown cart roads, but he never seems to get 
anywhere, as the trees seem to lead him on indefinitely ; he may turn 


aside occasionally to examine the thicker vegetation about a stag- 
nant pool, or to explore the more abundant bird life in one of the 
few scattered "cypress heads"; or in some wide open space, he may 
flush the stately sandhill crane from a larger grassy pond. But the 
three characteristic birds, which one finds everywhere in the flatwoods, 
are the red-cockaded woodpecker, the pinewoods sparrow, and this 
little nuthatch. The woodpecker climbs upward on the trunks of the 
pines ; the sparrow flushes suddenly from any one of the many clumps 
of saw palmetto that carpet the forest floor and almost as suddenly 
drops out of sight into another patch; and the nuthatch may be seen 
climbing upward, downward, or sidewise, in true nuthatch fashion, 
on the trunk of a pine ; or, perhaps more often, a little troop of them 
may be seen foraging in the tree tops and advertising their presence 
with their gentle twittering. 

There is not much more to be said about the habits of the gray- 
headed nuthatch, which do not seem to differ materially from those of 
the more northern race. The eggs are indistinguishable. The meas- 
urements of 28 eggs average 15.0 by 11.8 millimeters; the eggs show- 
ing the four extremes measure 16.1 by 12.1, 15.8 by 12.8, 14.1 by 11.2, 
and 14.4 by 11.0 millimeters. 
The following account is contributed by Frederick V. Hebard : 
"This race seems to be valid, since it is distinguishable in life from 
the brown-headed nuthatch with comparative ease, although their 
habits seem the same. The range is stated to be 'Peninsula of Florida' 
(A. O. U. 1931), but the nesting form in southeastern Georgia is un- 
questionably gray in crown color and within the size limit of this 
race. Comparatively limited records indicate that the gray-headed 
withdraws into Florida in cold winters and is replaced to a limited 
degree by the brown-headed nuthatch. In warm winters the species is 
so much more common that this range withdrawal may not then take 
place. In all years our little friend will be present by the middle of 
February and nest-building commences shortly thereafter. During 
the winter this species is usually seen 20 feet or more above the ground 
either in family flocks, flitting from pine tree top to pine tree top, or 
less commonly inching up or down a pine tree trunk. During nesting 
season they are usually seen from 20 feet down, but as soon as nesting 
is over they seem to return to the tree tops, returning earthward only 
to fill one of their feeding stations in a rotting sapling with acorns 
for the nesting season or perhaps to associate with other species in a 
bird wave (cf. Murphey, 1937) of which they do not seem to be an 
integral part. These waves seem to result from animation of insect 
life in damp, warmish weather after a chill. This results in true 
commensalism in such species as the Carolina chickadee, tufted tit- 
mouse, ruby-crowned kinglet, and black and white and orange-crowned 
warblers, which I consider integral parts of bird waves, and in an 


apparent but unreal commensalism, since they feed at another table, 
of such species as the downy and red-cockaded woodpeckers, phoebe, 
and brown or gray -headed nuthatches." 

Nesting. — "My three nest records," continues Mr. Hebard, were all 
less than 5 feet from the ground, but John W. Burch considered this 
unusual, as he has generally found them 4 to 20 feet up. I did see 
nest-building commencing in a 6-foot-high fence post on February 
26, 1942, along the May Bluff road in Charlton County. Other records 

1. Nest found April 14, 1942, in Camden County in a dead pine stump 4i^ 
feet higli, with an undetermined number of young. 

2. Nest found April 23, 1942, in Charlton County in a charred pine stump 3 feet 
high, with young almost ready to fly. The nest hole was so deep that the nest 
was not over 20 inches from the ground. Wben examined on May 13, 1942, the 
nest was empty except for great numbers of creamy-white pinfeathers. This 
nest was composed of strips of cypress bark, unmatured pine mast, one or two 
strands of Spanish moss, and an unidentified wool-like substance that may well 
have been an insect nest. 

3. Nest found April 12, 1942, in Camden County, containing one egg about 
a foot down the top of a 4-foot pine fence post. From May 13 to 16, this nest 
contained three well-grown young whose mouths were always open when observed. 
On July 1, this nest was found covered by an incompleted bluebird nest. 

It is extremely interesting to compare this with what has been 
written about the same race 40 or 50 miles away (Grimes, 1932) : "A 
brown (-gray) -head was noted working on a newly started nest hole 
in a pine stump on February 20. Others were found from time to 
time, the two latest probably being second-brood nests — one May 16 
with four large young, the other May 18, with an undetermined num- 
ber of nearly fledged young." 




The type race of the pygmy nuthatch is now restricted to a very 
narrow range in the Transition Zone of the coast region of California, 
from San Luis Obispo County to Mendocino County. 

A. J. van Rossem (1929) says that "the color characters distin- 
guishing ;?2/^maea from meZanoi^w * * * are more brownish pileum 
and nape, combined with a relatively indistinct ocular streak which is 
never prominent and in extreme cases so nearly concolor with the head 
as to be almost indistinguishable." 

Grinnell and Linsdale (1936) say that this subspecies, which was 
named from specimens collected at Monterey, "is restricted quite 
closely to the southern portion of the humid coast strip," as mentioned 
above. They further state : 


[It] "lives commonly in the same habitat, the coniferous forest, with the Santa 
Cruz Chestnut-sided Chickadee; and it does so, therefore, compatibly. Our 
observations show the niche occupied by the nuthatch to be essentially different. 
While the two birds have about the same forage beat and cruising radius, often 
indeed seen closely associated, the nuthatch seeks (at least in the season of 
greatest food scarcity) static insect food in crevices of dry cones, twigs, and 
smaller branches in the subperipheral parts of the trees, and it uses its specialized 
digging tool (the bill) to dislodge or uncover these insects. In other words, 
the nuthatch has a food source beyond the usual reach of the chickadee. And 
then, too, with suitably rotted boles of trees available, it digs its own nesting 
cavity ; It does not tolerate the chickadee. 

Nesting. — The same observers write : 

The breeding season for this species [in the Point Lobos Reserve] was a long 
one, with a prolonged period of preparation. As early in the spring as February 
18, there were signs of pairing in this bird. In an excited flock in a pine, one 
individual was seen feeding another. Later, on several occasions, a male ( ?) was 
seen to feed its mate. 

Actual excavation at a nesting site was noted first on March 20. Just before 
noon, a nuthatch was digging 15 feet up on the west side of a 25-foot pine stump. 
It left the cavity, barely started, but returned again in 5 minutes. More than 
a month later, on April 24, a nuthatch, then out of sight, was still digging at 
this cavity. * * * 

Thirty-eight occupied nesting cavities were found, all of them in pines or 
dead remains of pines. The sites selected were high ones, averaging 30 feet 
above the ground and running as high as 60 feet. Only seven nests were found 
lower than 20 feet and only one under 10 feet. Sometimes the excavation was 
started at some crevice or break already existing in the tree, but more often, 
and especially when the wood was partly decayed, it was started on a plain 
surface. Once a cavity started by a haii'y woodpecker was deepened and occupied 
by a pair of nuthatches. * * * 

The bluebirds were the most serious competitors of this species for nest sites, 
and in several instances, in which the entrances were of sufficient size, they 
temporarily or even permanently ousted the smaller birds from a cavity. Nearly 
always in such cases the nuthatches had been the excavators, but the larger birds 
seemed usually to be the aggressors. At one stump where nuthatches were 
digging only 2 feet below a bluebird's nest, there were alarm notes and activity 
when the bluebirds were near. The nuthatches usually retreated, but they 
sometimes kept on working. 

The birds at one nest showed great excitement when a hairy woodpecker 
came near. Chickadees were competitors of close to nuthatch size. Once one 
was seen pursued by a chickadee, and at another time one was chasing a chick- 
adee. In general, however, these two species avoided one another by nesting 
at wholly different levels. One pair of nuthatches which was feeding young 
chased away a male linnet and, later, a violet-green swallow, from the vicinity 
of the nest. 

Mrs. Amelia S. Allen tells me that in fall these nuthatches "wander 
through the lower valleys where their chattering notes betray their 
presence in the tops of the trees among the cones. At Inverness, in 
Marin County, they are much at home among the Bishop pines, and 
at Carmel, in Monterey County, among the Monterey pines." 


The eggs of this subspecies are indistinguishable from those of the 
following form. The measurements of 40 eggs of the present race 
average 15.4 by 12.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 16.3 by 12.8, 14.5 by 12.3, and 14.7 by 11.2 millimeters. 


Range. — Southern British Columbia to southern Mexico. 

The pygmy nuthatch breeds north to southern British Columbia 
(Cawston, Penticton, and Newgate). East to southern British Co- 
lumbia (Newgate) ; western Montana (probably Belton and the Bear- 
tooth Mountains) ; Wyoming (near Laramie) ; Colorado (Estes Park, 
mountains west of Boulder, Golden, and Fort Garland) ; possibly 
northeastern Oklahoma (Kenton) ; New Mexico (Sangre de Cristo, 
Capitan, and Sacramento Mountains) ; southwestern Texas (Guada- 
lupe Mountains) ; and Veracruz (Las Vigas). South to Veracruz 
(Las Vigas) ; Puebla (Mount Orizaba and Rio Frio) ; Morelos (Huit- 
zilac) ; and Michoacan (Mount Tancitaro). West to Michoacan 
(Mount Tancitaro) ; Jalisco (San Sabastian) ; Baja California 
(Sierra San Pedro Martir and Laguna Hansen) ; California (Mount 
Pinos, Monterey, Point Reyes, and Inglenook) ; Oregon (Pinehurst 
and Warm Springs Reservation) ; Washington (Seattle and Mount 
Baker); and British Columbia (Cawston). 

The pygmy nuthatch is not migratory, but it does wander about 
some in winter, at which time it has reached western Nebraska. 

The distribution as given is for the entire species, which has been 
divided into four subspecies or geographic races within our limits. 
The pygmy nuthatch {S. p. pygmaea) occurs in the coast region of 
California from Mendocino County south to San Luis Obispo County. 
The white-naped nuthatch {S. p. leuconucha) breeds from Riverside 
and San Diego Counties, Calif., south through the San Pedro Martir 
Mountains, Baja California. The Nevada nuthatch {S. p. canescens) 
occurs in the Charleston and Sheep Mountains in southern Nevada. 
The black-eared nuthatch {S. p. melanotis) occupies the Rocky Moun- 
tain region from southern British Columbia southward to New Mexico 
and Arizona, and possibly Sonora, and the Sierra Nevada in 

Egg dates. — Arizona : 9 records, May 7 to June 6. 

California : 89 records, April 17 to June 27 ; 45 records. May 16 to 
June 3, indicating the height of the season. 

Colorado: 22 records, May 13 to June 19; 11 records, May 22 to 
June 12. 

Oregon : 17 records, May 3 to June 21. 




Plate 13 


Up to the time that this race was separated, in 1929, all the pygmy 
nuthatches of the western United States were supposed to belong to 
the type race. The species is widely distributed and was always 
known to all the earlier writers as the pygmy nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea 
fygmaea. But inelanotis^ as now recognized, is the most widely dis- 
tributed and the best-known race and must be given the most consider- 
ation here, even if the new name is not always used. 

A. J. van Rossem (1929) gives as the subspecific characters of Tuiel- 
anotis: "Similar in size to Sitta pygmaea pygmaea^ but top of head 
and nape decidedly darker and more slaty (less brownish) ; streak 
from bill through eye broader and often nearly black, contrasting 
strongly with the white or buffy white malar region. Differs from 
Sitta pygmaea leuconucha in decidedly smaller size and very much 
darker coloration." 

It occupies the entire Rocky Mountain region, from southern British 
Columbia and northern Idaho south to the Mexican boundary, and 
west to eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, the Sierra Nevada, and 
the San Bernardino Mountains of California. Mr. van Rossem ( 1929 ) 
says that "in southern California, intergradation with leuconucha is 
very gradual and birds from the extreme southern Sierras, Mt. Pinos, 
the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains are definitely larger 
than northern Sierra and Rocky Mountain series." 

The black-eared nuthatch is a mountain bird, breeding in the Tran- 
sition Zone at elevations from 3,500 to 10,000 feet in various parts of 
its range. Its distribution seems to coincide very closely with that of 
the yellow pine, where it is generally common and often really abun- 
dant. In the San Bernardino Mountains, Dr. Grinnell (1908) found it 
"most numerous in the lower Transition zone, in the Jeffrey and yellow 
ping belt." It is doubtless found to some extent among other 
species of pines, though the yellow-pine belt seems to be its favorite 
breeding ground. In the Huachuca Mountains we found it very 
common in the pines above 8,000 feet and up nearly to the summit, 
where the open growth of pines ended at about 9,000 feet. It reaches 
about the same altitudes in Nevada and Colorado ; and, in New Mexico, 
Mrs. Bailey (1928) says: "The Pygmies are characteristic birds of the 
Transition Zone yellow pine belt, following it on steep hot slopes to 
the extreme upper limit of the zone, sometimes as high as 10,000 feet." 


According to Grinnell and Linsdale (1936) it is resident "along the 
west flank of the Sierra Nevada, at altitudes of 3,500 to 6,000 feet, ac- 
cording to slope exposure and other factors." 

W. E. Griffee tells me that "the black-eared nuthatch, like the short- 
tailed chickadee, is found throughout the pine forests of eastern Ore- 
gon." According to Fred Mallery Packard (MS.), of Estes Park, 
Colo., "in spring and fall, small bands of pygmy nuthatches wander 
through the yellow pines, calling noisily ; but they scatter during the 
nesting season and are seldom heard then. Nests have been found, 
between June 5 and 18, at 8,200 feet, and it is certain that they nest 
well into the Canadian zone. There is a vertical migration, sometimes 
to the plains." 

Nesting. — It was on the summits of the Huachuca Mountains 
that I made the acquaintance of the tiny black-eared nuthatch, then 
known as the pygmy nuthatch. On these summits at elevations 
between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, above the steepest slopes, the surface 
of the gi'ound was nearly level in some places, or rollmg in gentle 
slopes in others. It was covered with a fine parklike, open forest 
of tall pines of two or three species that towered skyward to heights 
of 80 or 100 feet. Scattered through this forest were a number of 
tall dead pines and lower stubs. Here, on May 7, 1922, many of 
the nuthatches were already paired and were busy with their prepara- 
tions for nesting. The nesting holes were easy to recognize, as little 
circular openings, usually near the tops of the dead pine stubs and 
often under the stump of a branch. One nest that we investigated 
was 30 feet from the ground in such a situation, but no eggs had been 
laid in it. Another, similarly located, was not examined, as we were 
apparently too early. My companion, Frank Willard, returned to 
this locality on May 30 and collected three sets of eggs of this nut- 
hatch, consisting of six, seven, and eight eggs, respectively ; the nests 
were all in dead pine stubs, 20, 40, and 50 feet above ground; the 
depth of one cavity, evidently excavated by the birds, was 10 inches ; 
the nest lining consisted mainly of "pine bud hulls," with a few 

Nests are not always placed at such heights above ground. In 
the San Bernardino Mountains, at about 7,000 feet elevation. Dr. 
Grinnell (1908) found a nest "in a rotten pine stub eight feet above 
the ground. The cavity seemed to have been excavated by the birds 
themselves. Two blows on the stub brought out the setting bird, 
which at once disappeared. After a while what proved to be the 
male nuthatch made his appearance with an insect in his mouth, 
an indication that the male feeds the female on the nest. The nest 
was a felted mass of rodent fur and plant down. There were seven 
slightly incubated eggs." 


Irene G. Wheelock (1904) writes: 

At Lake Tahoe a hollow post several feet out in the water held a uest of 
these gray midgets, the entrance being a crevice scarcely large enough for 
a mouse. Both birds worked busily carrying feathers into this crevice until 
it seemed there must be at least a peck of them tucked away inside. Although 
I stood in a boat with hand resting on the post not a foot from their doorway, 
they came and went as unconcernedly as if no one were within miles of them. 

* * * Another nest found, June 14, ten feet from the ground in a dead 
pine was also entered through a crevice; the birds displayed the same 
fearlessness, going inside with food, while the bird-lover stood on her horse's 
back and tried to make the opening large enough to admit a friendly though 
curious hand. The brave little bird would light on the trunk just above the 
nest hole, and, running quickly down, dodge in when the fingers of the in- 
vestigator were pulling at the crevice. 

Another nest near Lake Tahoe is reported by Claude Gignoux 
(1924), in "a hole about 10 feet from the ground in an upright post. 

* * * The nest, entered by a small, irregular orifice, was in a 
decayed portion of the pole, where excavation was easy. * * * 
The pole in which the nest was placed stood at the junction of two 
board walks, not over 20 feet from an occupied cottage. People 
were passing every few minutes, workmen were repairing a drain 
and board walk within 100 feet, and automobiles were being repaired, 
moved about, and their engines raced by mechanics, within 50 or 75 
yards. The adult birds were so intent upon their duties [feeding 
their young] that none of these activities disturbed them." 

There is a set of eggs in the J. P. Norris collection taken from a 
deserted woodpecker's hole, one from a hole bored by the birds in 
a Cottonwood tree, and another from "under loose bark on a dead 
tree". Probably any suitable cavity that is available may be 

From the mountains northeast of Silver City, N. Mex., J. S. Ligon 
wrote to Mrs. Bailey (1928) in April 1919, as follows : "I watched two 
of these little fellows laboring at a nest hole 18 feet up in a dead pine. 
One was inside, making the noise of a woodpecker. I watched the 
performance for about 10 minutes, during which time it made three 
trips out to the entrance to fling the chips and dust to the wind with a 
quick shake of the bill. It came out apparently to rest and the other 
went quickly in, and after it had hammered a little, came up with its 
cuttings, flinging them away and quickly returning. On the 18th or 
19th, it seemed that all the Pygmies, as if by general order, were 
working in nest holes." 

Mr. Griffee writes to me that the nests of this nuthatch, in eastern 
Oregon, "usually are in ponderosa pine snags. The larger snags, after 
being dead for several years, have a layer of punky sapwood, 3 or 4 
inches thick, and deep season checks which need only a little enlarging 


to serve as entrances to nesting cavities. Since the entrances are irreg- 
ular in shape, being 1 to 1 14 inches wide by li/4 inches or more high, 
and usually 10 to 25 feet up, they are not at all conspicuous. The 
bottom of the nesting cavity is usually about 8 inches below the 
entrance, and in some cases it is so small that a family of six or seven 
young nuthatches must find it very cramped quarters. The lining, 
often scanty, is of shreds of bark, bits of cocoons or of wool, and a few 

Eggs.— Pygmy nuthatches may lay anywhere from four to nine eggs 
to a set : the smaller numbers are unusual, and most of the sets consist 
of six to eight eggs. They vary in shape from ovate to short-ovate 
and have practically no gloss. The ground color is pure white, and 
they are usually unevenly and rather sparingly sprinkled with fine 
dots of reddish brown or brick red, "hazel," or "vinaceous-cinnamon" ; 
some eggs are more heavily spotted about the larger end, rarely else- 
where, with these colors or "chestnut." Eggs of this species do not 
show so much variation as those of some of the other nuthatches, and 
are not so handsomely marked. The measurements of 40 eggs average 
15.3 by 11.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 
16.3 by 11.4, 15.0 by 12.5, 14.2 by 12.2, and 15.2 by 11.1 millimeters. 

Young. — I can find no definite statement as to the period of incuba- 
tion, which is probably about 14 days. Perhaps both sexes share in 
this duty, but the fact that the male is known to feed the female on the 
nest indicates that she probably does most, if not all, of the incubating. 
Both parents feed the young in the nest and for some time after they 
leave it. Mrs. Wheelock (1904), at the nest she watched, noted that 
"both male and female were busy hunting some sort of white larvae 
that they obtained from an old stump. The adults did not swallow 
these, but carried them in their bills — which convinced me that the 
nestlings were at least five days old." 

Mr. Gignoux (1924) writes: 

Both parent birds were engaged in the task of carrying what appeared to be 
flies, worms, and white grubs, and both birds were often in sight at the same 
time. The first visit was recorded at 2 : 26 in the afternoon and by 3 : 27 the 
birds had made 24 calls, carrying food each time. At this rate the adult birds 
were making over 300 trips a day. The longest interval between visits was 8 
minutes, the shortest was half a minute. The parents did their foraging in 
nearby pine trees and well up from the ground, from about 50 to 80 feet or more 
high. The insects were thrust into the bills of the young the instant the parents 
arrived, without the slightest delay, and the old birds were off for more, now and 
then stopping a second or so to remove material from the nest. * * * 

During the days on which I watched the birds, foraging was done in a group 
of about 20 large pine trees. The flights were always direct from near the nest 
to and from these pines. I measured what seemed the distance of these trees 
from the nest and estimated that 150 yards was the average round trip and that 
the total distance traveled each day was approximately 30 miles. 


Mrs. Wheelock (1905) tells of another nest, not those referred to 
above : 

In this case there were newly hatched young in the nest ; and, as the adults 
went inside to feed them not more than two feet from my eyes, I was able to see 
perfectly that the food was carried in the throat. Of course this could only 
mean regurgitation ; but not until the third day could I get at the nestlings to 
examine the crops. The contents consisted of larvae of insects and ant eggs, all 
partially digested. On the fifth day the examination indicated the presence 
of fresh or unregurgitated insect and grass food. On the sixth day most of the 
food given was fresh, but on two occasions the adults visited the nests with no 
visible supply in the bills. No record was kept of this brood after the sixth day. 
Two other broods of this species were recorded at the same place and with 
practically the same results. 

J. Eugene Law (1929), while studying the behavior of a pair of 
these nuthatches, noted that "when a fecal sac was brought out, it was 
not dropped in flight but was carried out and left attached to some 
high limb. One particular limb of another tree received it on more 
than one occasion that I saw. After depositing the feces the bird 
wiped and rapped its beak on the limb vigorously." He also relates 
the following : 

One day as Dr. Tracy I. Storer and I stood near, a parent, grasping with its 
beak, seized a nestling by the shoulder, and after a rough tussle pulled the chick 
out and let it go fluttering to the ground. There, after a rest, during which 
parental solicitude obviously urged action, the fledging fluttered along the 
ground directly to the base of a huge live pine near-by and began to climb. 
A yard or two at a time, intervalled by long rests, it finally worked up the trunk 
to the first limbs, some 50 feet. The astonishing thing was that the fledgling 
elevated itself up trunk mainly by rapid fluttering of its wings while keeping the 
body axis parallel with the perpendicular tree trunk, all the while pawing the 
bark furiously with its feet. Progress was slow, dangerously near no progress, 
it seemed. 

After the young have left the nest, they travel about in a family 
party until they learn to shift for themselves. These parties later join 
in larger flocks, made up of several families, and roam through the 
tree tops during fall and winter. 

Plumages. — Ridgway (1904) says that young pygmy nuthatches in 
Juvenal plumage are "similar to adults, but pileum and hindneck 
gray, only slightly, if at all, different from color of back, and sides and 
flanks pale buffy brown or brownish buff instead of gray." Appar- 
ently, after the postjuvenal molt in August, old and young birds are 
practically indistinguishable. Adults have a complete postnuptial 
molt beginning about the middle of July and lasting through most of 
August; I have seen adults in fresh plumage as early as August 20. 
In fresh fall plumage the colors are richer and darker, the under parts 
decidedly buff, and the pale spot on the nape is partially concealed 
with gray tips. 


Food.— Proi. F. E. L. Beal (1907) examined only 31 stomachs of 
the California races of the pygmy nuthatch and found the food to be 
divided into approximately 83 percent animal matter and 17 percent 
vegetable. The largest item of animal food was Hymenoptera, mostly 
wasps with a few ants, amounting to 38 percent of the whole. He- 
miptera came next, 23 percent; "a large proportion of these belong 
to the family Cercopidae, commonly known as spittle-insects, from 
the fact that they develop inside of a froth-like substance resembling 
saliva produced in summer upon grass and various plants and trees. 
While none of these insects have yet become pests, there can be no 
doubt that collectively they do considerable harm to plants, as some- 
times they are very abundant and subsist entirely upon their sap." 
Eighteen out of twenty stomachs from the pine woods of Pacific Grove 
"contained remains of Cercopidae, and six were filled with them. The 
average for the 18 stomachs is a little more than 76 percent of all the 
food." Beetles of various families formed about 12 percent of the 
food, caterpillars 8 percent, and spiders 1 percent. "The vegetable 
portion is made up almost entirely of seeds, of which a majority are 
those of conifers, as was to be expected from the habits of the bird." 

A few other items have been mentioned by others. R. C. Tate 
(1925) adds, from Oklahoma, moths, pine nuts, and grasshoppers. 
Junius Henderson (1927) quotes from Professor Aughey's first report 
that "four Nebraska stomachs averaged 23 locusts, 4 other insects and 
four seeds each." 

Most of the pygmy nuthatch's food is obtained in the topmost 
branches of the pine, where it climbs over and under the branches and 
out to the outermost twigs and among the pine needles. But it also 
forages on the trunks in true nuthatch fashion, looking for hidden 
insects, or resorts to the ground to pick up insects and seeds. It can 
crack the pine nuts with its strong little bill and pick out tlie seeds. 
It has been seen darting out into the air after flying insects, or flutter- 
ing in front of tlie terminal twigs of the conifers to pick oif insects 
while poised in the air. 

Behavior. — As may be seen from some of the above quotations, 
Pygn^y nuthatches are tame, confiding little birds, showing great con- 
fidence in human beings or being quite oblivious to their intimate 
presence ; and they have even been known to pursue their nesting activ- 
ities close to those of humans, apparently unafraid. Their behavior 
is much like that of their near relatives, the brown-headed nuthatches 
of the southeastern States ; like them they live mostly in the tree tops 
in merry little parties; they are even more gregarious than their east- 
ern cousins. Except when the pairs are busy with their family affairs, 
these little birds are almost always seen in small flocks, which increase 
greatly in size during fall and winter. Mr. Swarth (1904b) says: 
"During the migrations they seem to form a sort of nucleus for other 


birds to gather around, and are usually accompanied by a number of 
migrating warblers, vireos, etc. Many of them [in Arizona] remain 
in small flocks up to the middle of May, though others may be seen at 
work at their nests in some old stump early in April; so by the time 
the last of them are paired off, those that first went to work are nearly 
ready to appear with their broods, and there is consequently hardly 
any time when Pygmy Nuthatches are not to be seen in flocks." 

These flocks of sociable little birds are full of incessant activity, as 
they drift through the tree tops in loose formations, twittering con- 
stantly to keep in touch with each other, reminding one of the flocks 
of bushtits that travel in a similar disconnected way through the 
shrubbery, yet definitely associated. In some ways, too, their behavior 
reminds one of the titmice or kinglets, especially in their feeding habits. 

J. Eugene Law (1929) has published an interesting paper on the 
climbing technique of this nuthatch, well illustrated with photographs 
showing the specialized use of the feet. He says: "Down-tree prog- 
ress for a nuthatch seems to be a series of sidling hops or drops. While 
the bird is moving, its body rarely, perhaps never, parallels the axis 
of the tree, and at each pause one foot is usually apparent, clinging 
up -trunk, its grasp transverse to the axis of the tree. When the bird 
stops, its body may turn so that the body and head point directly 
downward, and even then there is always that foot up-trunk holding 
on while the other foot holds the body out from the tree. * * * j^ 
is obvious, if we think a minute, that in this position the function of 
the up foot is to cling by the toes, while that of the down foot is to 
support. * * * The sole of the lower foot is depressed against the 
trunk wMle that of the upper foot is free." All these points are well 
shown in his photographs, with the feet widely spread in all crosswise 
or head-downward positions. 

Very little is known about where and how birds spend their nights. 
Night roosting of passerine birds has been observed in only a few 
instances for very few species. From what little has been seen, we 
might infer that hole-nesting birds may prefer to roost in such cavities, 
though other methods of roosting have been observed. Mrs. A. H. 
Jones (1930) watched a family of black-eared nuthatches, in Colorado, 
go to roost for several nights in a bird box made of slabs and attached 
to the trunk of a large yellow pine. They came regularly each night 
at about 6 : 45, entered the box, and apparently spent the night there. 
But they were not allowed to enjoy this comfortable retreat very long 
before a house wren appeared one morning and tried to take possession 
of the box. For a few nights the nuthatches were able to drive out 
the wren, but eventually the wren secured a mate and filled up the box 
with twigs, which the nuthatches were unable to remove, and the nut- 
hatches had to give it up. 

758066—48 5 


Voice. — Pygmy nuthatches are noisy birds, and their notes are quite 
different from those of other nuthatches ; especially noticeable is the 
entire absence of the familiar yank-yank of the white-breasted species. 
Ralph Hoffmann (1927) describes it very well as follows: "They 
call to one another incessantly with a high staccato tl-dt, ti-di, ti-di, 
which becomes a rapid series of high cheeping notes when a number 
are together, and in spring is combined with a vigorous trill. As they 
fly they utter a soft kit, kit, kit:' Robert Ridgway (1877) thought 
that "the notes of this species greatly resemble in their high pitch the 
'peet' or 'peet-weet' of certain Sandpipers (as Tringoides and Rhyaco- 
philus), but they are louder and more piercing." 

Field marks. — The pygmy nuthatches can be easily distinguished 
from the other two western nuthatches by the absence of the conspicu- 
ous black caps of the white-breasted and red-bellied species. It is 
much smaller than the former and slightly smaller than the latter. 
Its coloration is dull, and the black line through the eye and the white 
spot on the nape are not very conspicuous, except at short range. Its 
very short tail, its jerky flight, and its habit of crawling over trunks 
and branches mark it as a nuthatch. 

Fall and winter. — These are the seasons of most conspicuous activity 
and the greatest concentration into large flocks. As fall approaches 
the little family parties join with other families, adding to their 
numbers as the season progresses, until the flocks increase to as many 
as 50 or 100 birds. As these great flocks travel through the woods, 
they may occupy several trees, but, like the flocks of bushtits, they keep 
in touch with the general throng with their ceaseless chatter, and 
the main flock moves along. Associated with these flocks there may 
be a few white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, warblers, or 
creepers, or perhaps one of the smaller woodpeckers, all intent on 
their own affairs, but on peaceful terms. The woods seem alive with 
the merry parties, in which the shrill notes of the nuthatches are 
most conspicuous. 

In winter the nuthatches retreat more or less from the higher alti- 
tudes in which they nested, and drift downward, Mrs. Bailey (1928) 
says as low as 4,000 feet in New Mexico. They descend to some extent 
from the pine belt and may be seen foraging among the evergreen 
oaks, or in the juniper and pinyon belt, at this season. But at the first 
hint of spring they move up again into their beloved yellow pines. 




This nuthatch was originally described as a local race, living in the 
higher parts of the Sierra San Pedro Martir in Baja California, but 
it is now also recognizgd as the resident form in the southern counties, 


Riverside and San Diego, in California. A. J. van Rossem (1929) 
remarks : '"''Leuconucha in typical form occurs only south of the Lower 
California boundary. Birds from north of that point are somewhat 
intermediate toward melanotis^ but a good series from the San Jacinto 
Mountains demonstrates clearly that leucormcha extends to that 

A. W. Anthony (1889), in naming it, says that it "differs from S. 
pygmaea in larger bill, grayer head, more conspicuous nuchal patch 
and whiter underparts. Compared with the other races, leucormcha 
is characterized by largest size, particularly of bill ; paler, more ashy 
coloration of the upper parts, and least buffy underparts. I can not 
agree that the amount of white on the nape is of diagnostic value." 

Mr. Anthony (1893) called the white-naped nuthatch "the most 
abundant species on the San Pedro Martir mountain; found every- 
where in the pines. Upon our arrival May 5 this species was mating ; 
noisy little companies of five or six to a dozen were seen chasing one 
another through the pines, chattering and calling from daylight till 
dark; although dozens of nests were discovered all were practically 
inaccessible. A favorite location for the burrow was on the under 
side of a dead branch, well away from the trunk of a large pine, and 
from twenty-five to a hundred feet from the ground." 

The eggs of the white-naped nuthatch are apparently indistinguish- 
able from those of the other races of the species. The measurements 
of 23 eggs average 15.7 by 12.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 16.3 by 12.3, 16.0 by 12.4, 15.0 by 11.7, and 15.4 by 
11.6 millimeters. 


Mr. van Rossem (1931) described this local race of the pygmy nut- 
hatch as "exactly resembling Sifta pygmaea leuconucha Anthony of 
northern Lower California in pale, ashy gray coloration, but size, par- 
ticularly of bill, decidedly smaller. Similar in size to Sitta pygmaea 
melanotis van Rossem of the Rocky Mountains, but coloration paler 
and more ashy throughout, particularly on the head. Measurements 
of the type, which was selected as showing the racial average in size 
and color, are : wing, 64.0 mm. ; tail, 34.0; culmen from base, 15.0." 

He gives the range as "Charleston and Sheep Mountains, extreme 
southern Nevada, where resident in the yellow pine association from 
7,000 to 8,500 feet," and says : "The series of 11 canescens are all in rela- 
tively fresh fall plumage, indeed seven of them had only just com- 
pleted the annual moult at the time of collection. The color char- 
acters are, therefore, true ones and not the result of wear or fade. 
* * * -pj^g Lower California race, leuconucha^ the only one re- 
sembling canescens closely in color, measures on the basis of 10 adult 
males from the San Pedro Martir Mountains : wing, 68.0 mm. ; tail, 
36.0 ; culmen from base, 18.2." 


Family CERTHIIDAE: Creepers 


Plates 14, 15 


The brown creeper, as he hitches along the bole of a tree, looks like 
a fragment of detached bark that is defying the law of gravitation by 
moving upward over the trunk, and as he flies off to another tree he 
resembles a little dry leaf blown about by the wind. As he climbs 
up the tree, he is feeding, picking up tiny bits of food that he finds 
half-hidden in the crevices of bark along his path. In his search he 
does not work like the woodpeckers, those skilled mechanics whose 
work requires the use of carpenter's tools, the drill and chisel. The 
creeper's success depends on painstaking scrutiny, thoroughness, 
and almost, it seems, conscientiousness. Edmund Selous (1901), 
speaking of the European tree-creeper, a bird close to ours in habit, 
uses the exact word to show us the creeper at work. "His head," he 
says, "which is as the sentient handle to a very delicate instrument, 
is moved with such science, such dentistry, that one feels and appre- 
ciates each turn of it." 

Spring. — The creeper is rather a solitary bird as we see it in its 
winter quarters and in spring on the way northward to its summer 
home. We often find it, to be sure, feeding near chickadees, nut- 
hatches, and golden-crowned kinglets, but there seems to be no close 
association between it and the other members of the gathering. The 
creeper pays little or no attention to the birds about him and by no 
means always follows them in their wanderings. 

There is little change in his behavior as spring advances; he is 
the same calm, preoccupied searcher he has been all through the win- 
ter, but before the close of March he may, on rare occasions, sing his 
delicate song. When we hear it — a strangely wild song for so prosaic 
a character — we, who live not too far from the creeper's northern 
forests, suspect that the singer may have a mate, or is attempting to 
acquire one, and if the song continues into May, and if the bird 
frequents a locality where the trees are broken, burned, or dying, we 
shall do well to look about for a nest, or the preparation for one, 
because the bird often breeds well to the south of its normal range, 
provided that the surroundings are favorable for nesting. 

Ordinarily we meet but one creeper, or at most two, in a woodland 
of moderate extent, but Dayton Stoner (1932) states: "During May 
1929 season, when the brown creeper was unusually common in several 
districts on the south side of Oneida Lake [New York], I often came 


upon small groups of three to six individuals in the woods, all within 
a few yards of one another. Perhaps not another individual would 
be seen for an hour or even during the entire morning. This apparent 
concentration of birds within localized areas led me to believe that a 
more or less concerted movement was taking place and that the species 
traveled in loose groups, not close enough to be termed flocks." 

Courtshij). — The creeper's courtship appears to consist of a display 
of agility in the air. Once in a while we see a bird launch out from a 
tree and at top speed twine around it close to the bark, then dart 
away and twist around another tree, or weave in and out among the 
surrounding trees and branches. He has thrown off his staid creeper 
habits and has become for the time a care-free aerial sprite, giving 
himself up, it seems, to an orgy of speed, wild dashes, and twists 
and turns in the air. But after a round or two, back on the bark 
again, he resumes his conventional routine and becomes once more a 
brown creeper. 

Chreswell J. Hunt (1907) describes a somewhat similar excursion 
through the air, associated with the pursuit of another creeper. He 

It was ou March 9, 1904, * * * that I saw two Brown Creepers engaged 
in this game of tag. In my experience the Brown Creeper always alights near 
the base of a tree trunk and then works upward, his course being a spiral oae — 
he travels round and round as lie climbs upward. In the pursuit I speak of this 
same program was carried out, only instead of climbing up the trunk the birds 
would fly up. They alighted near each other upon the tree, then number one 
would take wing and fly upward, describing one or two complete spirals about 
the trunk and again alight upon it with number two following in close pursuit. 
To travel in a spiral course seemed to be such a well formed habit that they 
could not get away from it. It was not simply a chance flight, for I saw it 
repeated again and again. 

Nesting. — There is a bit of interesting history in regard to the 
nesting of the brown creeper. Alexander Wilson (Wilson and Bona- 
parte, 1832) says: "The brown creeper builds his nest in the hollow 
trunk or branch of a tree, where the tree has been shivered, or a limb 
broken off, or where squirrels or woodpeckers have wrought out an 
entrance, for nature has not provided him with the means of excavat- 
ing one for himself." He saj^^s nothing, however, about the nest 
itself. Thomas Nuttall's (1832) remarks on the situation of the nest 
consist, as usual, in a rephrasing of Wilson's report, but Audubon 
(1841a), while obviously copying Wilson in speaking of the situation 
of the nest, adds that he himself has found nests, saying: "All the 
nests which I have seen were loosely formed of grasses and lichens 
of various sorts, and warmly lined with feathers, among which I in 
one instance found some from the abdomen of Tetrao Umbellus.'''' 

Many years later, with the idea of setting right a long-standing 
error of the older ornithologists as to the situation of the creeper's 


nest, Dr. Thomas M. Brewer (1879) published an article in the spring 

of 1879 in which he says : 

In "North American Birds" [i. e., Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, 1874] it is 
said to breed in hollow trees, in the deserted holes of Woodpeckers, and In 
decayed stumps and branches of trees. This statement is rather legendary than 
positively ascertained, and I am now inclined to somewhat modify this opinion, 
the more so that I learn from Mr. Dresser that the European C. familiaris 
usually places its nest between the detached bark and the trunk of a large 
tree. This exactly describes the situation of the nest found in Grand Menan, 
and of six or seven other nests since identified and described to me. All of 
these nests have been in just such situations and in no other. Instead of this 
being exceptional, it is probable that this is our Creeper's most usual mode 
of nesting, and that this is one of several reasons that unite to make this nest 
one so rarely discovered. 

The hint contained in this article aroused the interest of William 
Brewster (1879), who, in the following spring, searched the region 
of Lake Umbagog, Maine, for creepers^ nests and in the fall published 
an account of his investigations. "During former seasons," he says, 
"1 had wasted much valuable time in sounding old Woodpecker's 
holes and natural cavities about places where the birds were evidently 
nesting; but, with the right clew at last in my possession, I succeeded 
on this occasion in finding quite a number of nests." The following 
description of a nest is a good example of those he found : 

The tree selected was a tall dead fir, that stood in the shallow water just 
outside the edge of the living forest, but surrounded by numbers of its equally 
unfortunate companions. Originally killed by inundation, its branches had long 
ago yielded to the fury of the winter storms, and the various destroying agents 
of time had stripped off the greater part of the bark until only a few persistent 
scales remained to chequer the otherwise smooth, mast-like stem. One of these, 
in process of detachment, had started away from the trunk below, while its 
upper edges still retained a comparatively firm hold, and within the space thus 
formed the cunning little architect had constructed her nest. The whole width 
of the opening had first been filled with a mass of tough but slender twigs (many 
of them at least 6 inches in length), and upon this foundation the nest proper 
had been constructed. It was mainly composed of the fine inner bark of various 
trees, with an admixture of a little Vsnea moss and a number of spiders' cocoons. 
The whole mass was firmly but rather loosely put together, the different particles 
retaining their proper position more from the adhesion of their rough surfaces 
than by reason of any special arrangement or interweaving. The general shape 
of the structure necessarily conformed nearly with that of the space within 
which it was placed, but a remarkable feature was presented by the disposition 
of the lateral extremities. These were carried upward to a height of several 
inches above the middle of the nest, ending in long narrow points or h5rns, 
which gave to the whole somewhat the shape of a well-filled crescent. In the 
centre or lowest part of the sag thus formed was the depression for the reception 
of the eggs— an exceedingly neat, cup-shaped hollow, bordered by strips of soft, 
flesh-colored bark and lined with feathers from Ducks and other wild birds. 
The whole was fastened to the concave inner surface of the bark-scale rather 
than to the tree itself, so that when the former was detached it readily came 
ofC with it. * * * 


With respect to their general plan of construction, all of the eight nests which 
I have examined were essentially similar. Indeed, the uniform character of the 
nesting-sites chosen by the different pairs of birds was not a little remarkable. 
Thus, in every single instance that came under my observation, the nest was 
placed on a balsam fir, though spruce, birch, or elm stubs were often much 
more numerous, and frequently presented equally good accommodations. Again, 
in no instance did the tree resorted to retain more than three or four pieces of 
bark, while oftentimes the scale that sheltered the nest was the only one that 
remained. The height varied from 5 to 15 feet, but this particular was perhaps 
sometimes determined more by necessity than by any individual preference, as 
I noticed that when several equally suitable bark-scales occurred on the same 
tree, the lowest was invariably the one taken. In one such case the nest was 
so low that I could easily look into it by standing up in my boat. As before indi- 
cated, the size and shape of the different structures varied with that of the 
cavities in which they were placed. When the space between the bark and trunk 
was very narrow, the foundation of sticks was entirely dispensed with, the nest 
being then entirely composed of bark. Of the five examples now before me, only 
two are feather-lined, the remaining three being simply finished with shreds of 
the reddish inner fir-bark of a somewhat finer quality than those which make up 
the outer part of the structure. The most striking feature of all is the pro- 
longation of the upper corners, already described. In one extreme specimen 
these horns rise four inches above the central cup that contains the eggs. They 
are, perhaps, designed to act as stays or supports, as they are firmly attached 
to the rough inner surface of the bark which sustains the nest. 

The experience of Dr. Brewer and Mr. Brewster proved satisfac- 
torily that creepers build their nests behind bits of loosened bark, yet 
there remained a good record by Professor Aughey, who in 1865 had 
found a nest in a knothole. Brewster (loc. cit.) investigated this 
record and explains it in this way : 

Were it not for Professor Aughey's testimony we might fairly be inclined to 
suspect that all our earlier accounts of this Creeper's nesting were either founded 
upon hearsay or were purely fictitious. But we have this gentleman's satis- 
factory assurance that in Nebraska the Creeper does sometimes nest in holes in 
trees. Being desirous of obtaining further particulars regarding the nest men- 
tioned by him in his paper on "The Nature of the Food of the Birds of Nebraska," 
and referred to by Dr. Brewer in the April Bulletin, I wrote to Professor Aughey 
on the subject, and the following is an extract from his very courteous reply : 
"In reference to Certhia familiarls, it is certain that in Nebraska, where its 
favorite position for nesting under scales of loose bark is in some localities dif- 
ficult to obtain, it makes a nest in knot-holes. I have found two other nests 
in such places, — one in June 1877, between Bellevue and Omaha, on the Missouri 
Bluffs, in a box-elder tree ; another in June of the present season on Middle Creek, 
4 miles from Lincoln, also in a box-elder. I have also found several in the 
ordinary positions where old cottonwoods or elms abounded. It is therefore 
my conviction that this method of nesting in knot-holes was inaugurated be- 
cause of the scarcity of the ordinary positions. I could not find any tree near 
by where a nesting-place under bark could have been obtained in these instances 
of nesting in knot-holes." 

' The records of Macoun and Macoun (1900) may perhaps be ac- 
counted for in the same way. They say: "Have taken several nests 
at Ottawa, always in deserted woodpecker's holes." 


A creeper's nest presents an odd appearance when it and the bark 
to which it adheres firmly are removed from the tree. In shape it is 
like a loosely hung hammock or a new moon, the horns built high up 
at the sides of the nest, which seems to hang suspended between them. 
The structure bears a striking resemblance to those little windrows 
that we see on a forest path after the passing of a summer shower 
when the flowing water has pushed along the loose twigs, leaves, and 
pine needles and has left them lying in long, curved heaps, crescent- 
shaped like the creeper's nest. 

The nest is apparently built entirely by the female bird, but her 
mate often brings in nesting material and delivers it to her. I quote 
from my notes (Winsor M. Tyler, 1914) taken as I watched a pair 
building a nest in Lexington, Mass., in 1913 : 

When we first came upon the pair, the female was making long flights from the 
nest. Slie brought in bits of bark and some fuzzy material (fern down or 
caterpillar webbing). We saw her collect also bits of bark from nearby trees. 
Twice at least the male brought material and delivered it (bark or dead wood) 
to the female who was in the nest cavity. The female made half a dozen long 
flights, returning every 2 minutes. Then she flew eight times in the next 10 
minutes to a very small dead white pine a few yards away and returned each 
time with one or more fine twigs. Often after returning with a twig 6 inches 
long, she had some difficulty in forcing it through the entrance hole. She was 
wise enough, however, to turn her head so that the twig might slip in end 
first. Once, when she brought in a beakful of fern down, the material kept 
catching on the rough bark and tripping her up, but by bending her neck backward 
she was able to hold the stuff clear of the mark. In her trips to the little dead 
pine, the Creeper always aliglited on the slender trunk, but in order to reach 
the terminal twigs she had to hop out on the smaller branches. Sometimes, 
when these were very small, she perched crosswise upon them ; often she crawled 
around them, — her back to the earth. When perched, her tail hung straight 
downward, like a Phoebe's or a Brown Thrasher's when he sings. She broke 
off the twigs by tugging at them while perched or while fluttering in the 
air * * * 

The use of both the fern down and the webbing is, I believe, to bind the twigs 
together and to hold the nest to the bark, against which it rests. In the first 
nest site, if it had not been for this adhesion, the nest would have fallen to 
the ground of its own weight, for its base was unsupported. * * * 

The female flew to the nest with a bit of bark (2^2 X Vi inches) then pulled 
from the protruding base of the nest a piece of fuzz and took it into the cavity. 
Five minutes later she (or her mate) crept again to the base and pulled off 
a bit of bark which she carried within. The economical habit of using material 
twice (first for the foimdation and later for building the nest proper) is ap- 
parently a common practice. We saw it again and again. 

Verdi Burtch (MS.) points out that the extensive killing of trees 
furnishes brown creepers with many sites suitable for nesting. He 
says : "In the very cold winter of 1903 or 1904, with water 2 to 3 feet 
deep in Potter Swamp, New York, the ice froze to such a depth that 
hundreds of trees were killed. A few years later, the bark below 
the water line came off, and the bark higher up split and, curling in- 


ward, made ideal nesting sites for the creepers. This was the condi- 
tion in 1906 and 1907, and the creepers were quick to take advantage 
of it." 

A similar condition prevailed in eastern Massachusetts about 1913, 
following an invasion of gypsy moths. 

In addition to such fortuitous nesting sites as those mentioned above, 
there are other stations far to the south of the creeper's normal breed- 
ing range where the bird finds surroundings adapted to its nesting re- 
quirements. For example, Kennard and McKechnie (1905) found 
several nests in inundated white cedar swamps near the town of Canton, 
Massachusetts, and Dr. Arthur P. Chadbourne (1905) found a nest 
containing young in a similar swamp in Plymouth County, Mass. 
He remarks : "The conditions which determine the distribution of the 
Creeper in this region, are apparently a very moist, humid atmosphere, 
dense evergreen growth, through which the sun penetrates with diffi- 
culty, and considerable extent of wild woodland which is not dis- 
turbed by man throughout the nesting season." 

Arthur Loveridge (MS.) found two deserted nests, each holding 
three eggs, behind the shutters of a cabin on an island in the Belgrade 
Lakes, Maine. 

Eggs. — [Author's note : The brown creeper lays four to eight eggs 
to a set, most commonly five or six. They are usually ovate in shape, 
with variations toward short-ovate, or more often toward elliptical- 
ovate. The ground color is generally pure white but sometimes 
creamy white. They are usually more or less sparingly marked with 
small spots, fine dots, or mere pin points; the larger spots are often 
concentrated in a ring about the larger end, in which case the rest 
of the egg has only a few fine markings; some eggs are nearly im- 
maculate. Shades of reddish brown predominate in the markings, 
such as "hazel" or other bright browns, but darker browns, such as 
"Kaiser brown" or "liver brown," are not rare. I have seen one un- 
usual set that was heavily marked with these darker browns in large 
blotches three-sixteeftth of an inch long. 

The measurements of 40 eggs in the United States National Museum 
average 15.1 by 11.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 15.8 by 12.2, 15.5 by 12.7, and 13.7 by 10.7 millimeters.] 

Young. — The nestling creeper has not far to go to reach his native 
bark, and in 13 or 14 days after hatching he is ready to undertake the 
short journey. The following note tells of a brood that I (1914) 
watched on their first day after leaving the nest : 

The young birds left the Concord nest early on June 4 (possibly June 3). 
At 8 a. m., two were clinging, 30 feet from the ground, to the trunk of a living 
white pine tree which stood not far from the nest. One or two more were on 
another pine trunli. The little birds were extremely difficult to find by reason 
of their small size, their distance from the ground, their inconspicuous color and 


especially because each took a statiou in the dark shadow immediately below 
a horizoutal limb. Here they remained motionless for many minutes. Later, 
two young birds, one following the other, moved upward by feeble hitches and 
perched or squatted close to the trunk in the right angle formed by the limb. In 
hitching over the bark, they moved almost straight upward and whenever I saw 
them as a silliouette against the sky, and could thus determine the point, they did 
not use their tails for support. The shortness of the young Creeper's tails gave 
to their bodies a rounded, uubird-like outline and, with their short, stubby bills 
of wide gape and their squatting position on the upright bark they suggested 
tree-toads in no small degree. Like most young birds after they leave the nest, 
the fledgling Creepers were more noisy than they had been the day before. 
They announced their whereabouts to their parents with a note not previously 
lieard— a high sibilant call, "tssssi," or sometimes clearly divided into two 
syllables thus : ''ts-tssi." The voice was very sliglitly tremulous and, although the 
pitch and delivery of the notes were decidedly Creeper-like, they suggested to 
Mr. Faxon and me a flock of Cedarbirds. 

William Brewster (1938) states that the young birds "when held 
against the trunk of a tree instantly crept upwards using the short 
tail precisely in the manner of the old bird." Dayton Stoner (1932) 
speaks of the young creepers thus : 

Below the nest, the bark clung flrmly to the tree, but above, it bulged out so 
that it formed a canopy for the nest beneath which the young birds might have 
taken their first lessons in climbing. 

As I stood viewing the situation in general and the young birds in particular 
four of them climbed into this covered space and, as I attempted to capture 
them, made a short flight into the surrounding vegetation. A little later I saw 
an adult feeding one of the youngsters clinging to the side of a tree. The young 
one did fairly well in its first attempts at climbing in the open, but seemed to 
have some difliculty in clinging to the smootli bark of the maples and moved about 
on these trees until it came to a little ledge of bark where it appeared more 

Cordelia J. Stanwood (MS.) gstimates the incubation period as 
about 11 or 12 days. 

Plumages. — [Author's note: The young nestling is sparsely cov- 
ered on feather tracts of the upper parts with dark gray down, which 
later adheres to the tips of the juvenal plumage. ^ This first plumage 
is much like that of the adult, but the colors are paler and duller and 
the plumage is softer and looser; the streaks on the head and back 
are broader and less sharply defined and tinged brownish ; the rump 
is paler russet, and the wing coverts are edged with pale buff; the 
under parts are buffy white, flecked on the chin, throat, and sides with 

A partial post juvenal molt, beginning early in August and involv- 
ing all the contour plumage, wing coverts, and tail, but not the rest 
of the wings, produces a first winter plumage which is practically in- 
distinguishable from that of the adult. Dr. D wight (1900) says of 
this plumage : "Similar to previous plumage. Above darker, the 
rump much rustier, the crown and back with white shaft streaks, 


wing covert edgings whiter. Below, silky white, the crissum faintly 
cinnamon ; tail olive-brown on the inner webs, Isabella color externally, 
a faint barring discernible, the middle pair of rectrices more broadly 
and less distinctly barred than in the juvenal plumage." 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in August. Fall birds 
are usually darker, more suffused with buffy, especially on the flanks 
and under tail coverts, and the white wing markings are tinged with 
buffy white. Spring birds are somewhat faded above and dingy 
white below.] 

Food. — Speaking of the food of the brown creeper, W. L. McAtee 
(1926a) says: 

The bird must have a close and important relation with forest insects, but 
unfortunately studies have not j'et been made that disclose the details of its 
food habits. However, we know that it devours weevils, leaf beetles, flat-bugs, 
jumping plant lice, leaf hoppers, scale insects, eggs of katydids, ants, and other 
small hymenoptera, sawflies, moths, caterpillars, cocoons of the leaf skeleton- 
izers (Bucculatrix), pupae of the codling moth, spiders, and pseudoscorpions. It 
takes only a little vegetable food, chiefly mast. Most of the insects the Brown 
Creeper is known to feed upon are injurious to trees and we may safely reckon 
this small but very close associate of trees as one of their good friends. 

Dayton Stoner ( 1932) remarks : "Most of the insects taken are highly 
destructive; and many of them and their eggs, and immature stages 
as well, are so small as to be overlooked by the majority of arborial 
birds. That this bird is a valuable ally of the forester and horticul- 
turist cannot be doubted." 

Francis H. Allen sends us the following note : "Wlien feeding on the 
ground or on hard snow, as it occasionally does, it hops with the legs 
far apart and the body resting back on the tail, or apparently so. 
The bird in this rather pert attitude looks very different from the 
demure and rather humdrum creeper we usually see on the tree- 

Behavior. — We think of the creeper as always climbing upward over 
the bark in a straight or spiral course until, after reaching a fair 
height on the trunk, he drops to the base of another tree to ascend 
it in like manner. This is his ordinary way of feeding, but he often 
varies it. We may sometimes see him take a short hop backward to re- 
investigate a crevice in the bark, or take a hop sideways to broaden 
the field of his research, and, as we have noted under "Nesting," a bird 
may visit a slender branch and even perch on it, and he may also hitch 
along the underside of a horizontal branch, his back to the ground. 
Dr. Arthur P. Chadbourne (1905) speaks of a bird making "a hori- 
zontal run sideways and most decidedly crablike," and A. Dawes Du- 
Bois (MS.) notes the action of a creeper thus: "He proceeded up the 
tree for a while, but soon began to search the branches, usually work- 
ing outward from the trunk to the tip, and then flying back to the base 
of another branch. He seemed more at home on the under side of a 


limb than on top of it, for he went over the top only occasionally; 
evidently most of his food is to be found on the under side." 

O. A. Stevens, of Fargo, N. Dak., in a letter to Mr. Bent, describes the 
behavior of creepers at his feeding station. He says : "From all our 
observations we feel that they are slow to change their habits. In the 
early winter of 1941-42, three birds appeared in the tree near our 
window shelf and repeatedly worked up the tree past suet, nuts, and 
doughnuts where other birds were feeding, but rarely paid any atten- 
tion to the food. After a time they came to the window shelf and ate 
the chopped peanuts regularly. It was amusing to see them swallow 
pieces as large as a millet seed. Once I saw a creeper pound a larger 
piece of suet against the tree. 

"Dr. W. J. Breckenridge of Minnesota told me that the creepers 
.were fond of peanut butter put in holes of a stick. I prepared such a 
stick and hung it in the tree. The first results were disappointing. 
Once a bird sampled it and went on up the tree wiping his bill every 
few hops. A week or two later they were seen to visit it frequently, 
remaining for some little time. One day when I took it down, they 
looked for it repeatedly. The tree stands some 10 feet from the 
window shelf. In coming to the shelf, the birds always work up the 
tree to the level of the shelf or higher, watch to see if the coast is 
clear, then drop as if to reach the side of the house below, but rising 
to alight on the shelf. They never come down to the shelf as most 
birds do. Frequently they eat a little snow from the tree ; occasionally 
they walk out from the base of the tree on the ground. When they 
drop to a lower part of the tree, they always seem to fall off their 
perch and flutter, insectlike for a few moments." 

The brown creeper is not a shy bird as we meet it during its migra- 
tion ; it doubtless sees few men on its breeding grounds in the northern 
forests. Clarence M. Arnold (1908) relates the following instance of 
the bird's disregard of man : 

While walking along a wide wood-path I stopped to observe a mixed flock of 
winter birds in the trees nearby. There were Chickadees, Golden-crowned 
Kinglets, a Downy Woodpecker and a Brown Creeper, the latter being the first 
I had seen this season. For tbis reason, and also because this species is much 
rarer than the others, I was watching it closely through my field glass, standing 
almost motionless in the center of the path ; meanwhile, it flew to the base of 
a chestnut tree about 50 feet from me, and hitched its way up the rough bark. 
It had reached the lowest branches, about 20 feet from the ground, when 
suddenly it left the tree and darted straight at me, and, to my amazement, 
alighted on the left leg of my trousers, just above my shoe, in front, evidently 
mistaking the black and gray color for the bark of a tree. 

Arthur C. Bent (MS.) gives another example of the fearlessness 
of a bird on her nest. He says : "Hersey and I had been watching a 
pair of creepers in a pine grove, mixed with a few other trees, partly 
swampy. Today we found the nest 17 feet up under a loose slab of 


bark on a large dead white pine. The female bird could not be driven 
off the nest by rapping the tree or shaking the loose slab ; Hersey had 
to poke her off." 

Mrs. A. L. Wheeler (1933) reports the roosting of creepers on the 
porch of her house. She says : "For the last two winters I have been 
having some Brown Creepers clinging to the rough stucco in the 
entrance of our front door. Last winter there were two of them. They 
came about 4 o'clock, seldom later ; they would fly to the bottom, then 
climb to the top, and 'snuggle' close together in the corner. I put a 
protection near, to keep the cold wind off them, but they would not 
come near until I removed it. They paid no attention to persons 
passing through the door, although they were within easy reach." 

One winter afternoon at dusk I saw a creeper settle, evidently for 
the night, about 6 feet from the ground on the rough bark of a big 
white-ash tree. A cat was watching the bird and started to climb up 
toward it. When I drove the cat away, the creeper moved farther up 
the tree and settled again on the bark. 

Some years ago I spent many hours observing the breeding activi- 
ties of a pair of creepers. I append a quotation from my notes taken 
at the time (Winsor M. Tyler, 1914) : 

In watching a pair of Brown Creepers about their nest, whether they are 
building, incubating their eggs, or feeding their young, one is soon impressed by 
an air of happiness and calm which pervades the active little birds. From the 
behavior of many birds, one comes to associate the finding of a nest with 
anxiety expressed in various ways — with the nervous panic of the Warblers, 
the Robin's hysterical apprehension, the noisy complaint of the Crow and even 
with the polite uneasiness of the gentle Field Sparrow. The Brown Creeper, 
however, although doubtless observant, does not seem to look upon man as a 
danger ; he continues his work uninfluenced, I believe, by close scrutiny. Happy 
and calm, even under observation, the Creepers appear preoccupied in their 
work and the comradeship of a pair is very pretty to see. The male sliares with 
the female her interest in the progress of the nest; even although he knows 
nothing of nest building he collects material and offers it to his mate. Ever ready 
to assist, he feeds the female while she builds and while she is sitting and, 
after the young are hatched, he is no less industrious than she in caring for 
their needs. 

Francis Zirrer sends us the following note : "In April 1941, a farmer 
nearby called my attention to some little brown birds that climb trees 
coming nightly to a hollow beam, at the end of his barn, that protrudes 
about 2 yards from the building to within a few feet of several pine 
trees, part of a considerable gi'ove of pines, into which the farm build- 
ings are set. According to him the birds come every night, enter the 
opening at the end of the beam, and remain there for the night. With 
a long pole, and standing on a ladder, I was able to touch the beam, 
which has such small entrance that it is hardly noticeable from the 
ground, 25 feet lower. It was quite dark, but upon the touch with the 
pole, the birds at once began to come out, some flying to the trees 


nearby, others climbing around the beam or upon the walls of the barn. 
This, however, was enough, the birds were not molested further. We 
waited awhile, but it was too dark already, and we could not see 
whether the birds returned. Next evening, however, we were there 
earlier, and had the satisfaction to know that the disturbance of the 
previous night was apparently forgotten; altogether 11 birds entered 
the beam, but it took quite a while, and much moving in and out, flying 
back and forth, and climbing around the beam, nearby wall and trees 
before everybody was settled for the night." 

Frederick V. Hebard writes : ''This familiar creeper, so common in 
the Thomasvi lie-Tallahassee region, is absent or extremely rare in 
southeastern Georgia, except in times of extremely dry weather. Its 
nearsightedness is nowhere better illustrated than in our tangled 
branches and river swamps where, instead of dropping to the base of a 
tree after having reached the top of a nearby one, it drops only to the 
point where the trunk emerges above the underbrush." 

Voice. — How seldom we should see the creeper if he did not sound 
his little note ! Yet what a faint little note it is, the shortest, lightest 
pronunciation of the letters ts. He utters it as he climbs upward over 
the bark and as he flits downward to the base of the next tree. He 
often gives also a longer, more characteristic note, which may be sug- 
gested by the letters si-i-i-it, a long, high, ringing note, but not loud, 
apparently broken into minute syllables so that it has a quavering 
effect. This note resembles the sound made by a small steel chain, 
which, held by the end and let fall, tinkles into a little heap. A third 
note, more rarely heard, is a whistle, exquisitely pure, exceedingly 
high, and, if it were not so tiny, piercingly sharp. It may be given as 
a single long whistle or in a series of three or four shorter whistles. 
This note is clearly not a modification of the song, for it is used in the 
winter months and is not delivered with the cadence of the true song ; 
it is, perhaps, a whistled form of the Bi-i-i-it note. 

The song of the creeper, heard rarely during migration, but com- 
monly on the bird's nesting grounds, is one of the gems of bird music. 
Most often a phrase of five notes, a dactyl and a trochee, it is a simple, 
modest little strain, but it is delivered with such delicacy and dainti- 
ness and in a tone so pure and sweet that when he sings we feel we are 
listening to a delightful bit of verse. 

Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) says of it: "The song of the brown 
creeper is rather rarely heard. I hear it once in several yeai'S in the 
spring migration in April. On the breeding grounds the song evi- 
dently continues till the middle of July or later. It is short, weak, and 
very high-pitched. The pitch varies from the A above the highest 
note on the piano to the E above that. Most of the songs begin with 
a rather long note followed by one or two shorter notes that are a third 


lower in pitch, and these notes are repeated immediately, the six notes 
constituting the entire song. This may be varied a little by dropping 
one or two of the short notes or varying the pitch, but a majority of 
creeper songs are built on this plan." 

Frank Bolles (1891) gives a word of praise to the creeper's song. 
He says : "While watching and admiring these gay survivors of the 
winter [two butterflies and a moth], we heard a brown creeper sing. 
It was a rare treat. The song is singularly strong, full of meaning 
and charm, especially when the size of its tiny performer is remem- 

Field TYiarhs. — The brown creeper is a tiny bird not much over 5 
inches long and nearly half of his length is taken up by his long tail. 
He is brown on the back, faintly streaked with pale gray, and beneath 
he is pure white. His beak is long, needle-sharp, and bent downward 
in a long curve. His wings, rather long for so small a bird, make him 
appear larger when he opens them in flight. 

Enemies. — ^William Brewster (1936) describes the pursuit of a 
creeper by a northern shrike. He says : 

When I first saw him he was in hot pursuit of one of the Brown Creepers and 
both birds were about over the middle of the river and scarce a yard apart. The 
Creeper made straight for the big elm which stands at the eastern end of the 
bridge. When he reached it, the Shrike's bill was within 6 inches of his tail, 
but he nevertheless escaped, for an instant after the two birds doubled around 
behind the trunk the Shrike rose to the topmost spray of the elm, where he sat 
for a minute or more, gazing intently downward, evidently watching for the 
Creeper. The latter, no doubt, had flattened himself against the bark after 
the usual practice of his kind when badly frightened and he had the nerve and 
good sense to remain perfectly still for at least 10 minutes. My eyes were no 
better than the Shrike's, for it was in vain that I scanned the trunk over and 
over with the greatest care. Peeling sure, however, that the Creeper was really 
there, I waited patiently until at the end of the period just named he began run- 
ning up the trimk, starting at the very point where I had seen him disappear. 
It was one of the prettiest demonstrations of the effectiveness of protection col- 
oration that I have ever witnessed. 

Bradford Torrey (1885) tells thus of the defensive response of a 
creeper to the scream of a hawk : 

It was the last day of my visit, and I had just taken my farewell look at the 
enchanting prospect from the summit, when I heard the lisp of a brown creeper. 
This was the first of his kind that I had seen here, and I stopped immediately 
to watch him, in hopes he would sing. Creeper-like he tried one tree after another 
in quick succession, till at last, while he was exploring a dead spruce which had 
toppled half-way to the ground, a hawk screamed loudly overhead. Instantly the 
little creature flattened himself against the trunk, spreading his wings to 
their very utmost and ducking his head until, though I had been all the while 
eying his motions through a glass at the distance of only a few rods, it was almost 
impossible to believe that yonder tiny brown fleck upon the bark was really a bird 
and not a lichen. He remained in this posture for perhaps a minute, only putting 
up his head two or three times to peer cautiously round. 


Fall mid winter. — The earliest brown creepers that come down into 
southern New England in fall find the woods almost silent and deserted. 
The jolly little summer residents have mostly begun their journey 
southward, and few migrants from the north have arrived thus early — 
only the vanguard of the blackpoll flight and the earliest juncos. It is 
sometimes in the first half of September when the first creepers quietly 
and almost unnoticed appear on their winter quarters, before the trees 
have dropped their leaves, and when the first frost may be a month 
away, yet they bring us long in advance the first hint of winter. Dur- 
ing their migration, we often see the creepers on the trees bordering 
the streets of our towns, in our city parks, almost anywhere where there 
are large trees, but for the winter months they settle in woodlands or 
in the trees of large estates. 

Speaking of the creeper on Mount Mitchell, N. C. Thomas D. Bur- 
leigh (1941) says : "Unlike the preceding [red-breasted nuthatch] this 
species, while it nests in the fir and spruce woods at the top of the 
mountain, invariably retreats to the valleys in late fall and has never 
been found above an altitude of approximately 4,500 feet during the 
winter months." 

Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Argue had a very unusual experience on 
October 31, 1944, at Newburyport, Mass., near the seacoast. Mr. Argue 
writes: "Walking toward Pine Island [a wooded area in the marsh] 
we observed 20 brown creepers. The birds were climbing up the sides 
of buildings, up telephone poles, and fence posts as well as trees. Pro- 
ceeding to Pine Island we found 30 more creepers. Here they were 
on trees and rocks and even on the ground. One bird alighted for a 
moment on my trouser leg." 


Range. — The greater part of the Northern Hemisphere ; in America, 
from southern Alaska and southern Canada to Nicaragua. 

Breeding range. — In America the breeding range of the brown 
creeper extends north to southern Alaska (Tyonek and the Kenai 
Peninsula) ; northern British Columbia (Flood Glacier, Nine Mile 
Mountain, and Hazelton) ; central Alberta (Glenevis and Camrose) ; 
southern Manitoba (Winnipeg) ; central Ontario (Kapuskasing, 
Cobalt, and Ottawa) ; southern Quebec (Rouge River Valley and 
Grand Greve) ; and Newfoundland (Steplienville). East to New- 
foundland ( Stephen ville and Makinsons Grove) ; New Brunswick 
(Bathurst) ; Nova Scotia (Advocate) ; Massachusetts (Essex County 
and Mount Graylock) ; and in the mountains south to North Carolina 
(Grandfather Mountain) . South to western North Carolina (Grand- 
father Mountain) ; Tennessee (Mount Gu3'ot) ; northern Michigan 
(Beaver Islands) ; Minnesota (St. Paul) ; eastern Nebraska (Omaha 


and Lincoln) ; Wyoming (Wheatland) ; south through the Eocky 
Mountains of Colorado (Estes Park and Fort Garland) ; New Mexico 
(Taos and Cloudcroft) ; the highlands of Mexico (Arroyo del Buey, 
Durango, and Tizayuca, Morelos) ; Guatemala (Volcan de Fuego and 
Tecpam) ; to Nicaragua (San Rafael del Norte) ; and southern Cali- 
fornia (Strawberry Valley and Mount Wilson). West to California 
(Strawberry Valley, Fort Tijon) ; principally in the mountains of 
California (Yosemite Valley and Mount Shasta) ; Oregon (Rogue 
River Valley and Portland) ; Washington (Mount Rainier and Bel- 
lingham) ; British Columbia (Queen Charlotte Islands) ; and Alaska 

Winter range. — The winter range extends north to southeastern 
British Columbia (Comox, Chilliwack, and Okanagan Valley) ; North 
Dakota (Grafton and Fargo) ; Minnesota (Minneapolis) ; Ontario 
(Ottawa) ; and Nova Scotia (Pictou) . From this line brown creepers 
are found in winter south through all the States to the Gulf coast, 
northern Mexico (Chihuahua) ; and southern California (Victorville 
and Whittier). 

The range as outlined refers to the entire species in America, which 
is broken up into seven Check-list races with additional races resident 
in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. 

The typical race {G. f. famiUaris) is confined to the Old World. 
The eastern brown creeper (6'. /. americana) occurs from the eastern 
edge of the Plains, Manitoba to Nebraska eastward, south to Pennsyl- 
vania. The southern creeper ( C. f. nigrescens) is the bird of the south- 
ern Appalachians from West Virginia to North Carolina and Tennes- 
see. The Rocky Mountain creeper (C. f, montana) occurs from south- 
ern Alaska (Cook Inlet), central British Columbia, and in the Rocky 
Mountains south to Arizona and New Mexico. The Mexican creeper 
{C. f. albescens) ranges from southern Arizona south to Nayarit and 
Zacatecas, Mexico. The Sierra creeper {G. f. selotes) is found in the 
Cascades and Sierra Nevada from British Columbia and northern 
Idaho south to the San Jacinto Mountains of California. The Ne- 
vada creeper {G. f. leucosticta) is apparently confined to the Charles- 
ton and Sheep Ranges of southern Nevada. The California creeper 
{G. f. occidentalis) is found along the Pacific coast from Sitka, Alaska, 
to Monterey County, Calif. 

Spring migration. — Late dates of spring departure from the winter 
home are: Florida — Pensacola, March 24. Georgia — Athens, April 
1. South Carolina — Spartanburg, April 17. North Carolina — Char- 
lotte, April 17. Virginia — ^Lynchburg, April 15. District of Coluni' 
bia — Washington, April 24. Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh, May 8 
New York — New York, May 10. Massachusetts — Boston, May 16 
Arkansas— Tillar, April 4. Tennessee — Nashville, April 17. Ken- 

758066 — 48 6 


tncky— Danville, April 22. Missouri — Columbia, April 26. Illi- 
nois—Chicago, April 28. Indiana— Indianapolis, April 25. Ohio — 
Oberlin, May 9. Ontario— Toronto, May 24. Iowa— Sioux City, 
May 9. Wisconsin— Madison, May 10. Texas— Somerset, April 1. 
Oklahoma— Oklahoma City, March 18. Kansas— Onaga, April 28. 
Nebraska— Lincoln, May 8. South Dakota— Mellette, May 6. North 
Dakota— Fargo, May 7. 

Early dates of spring arrival are : New York — Albany, March 16. 
Massachusetts — Boston, March 16. Vermont — Kutland, March 16. 
Maine— Ellsworth, March 19. New Brunswick — St. John, April 24. 
Quebec — Montreal, March 18. Illinois — Chicago, March 18. In- 
diana — Indianapolis, March 5. Ohio — Painesville, March 12. Michi- 
gan — Sault Ste. Marie, April 10. Ontario — Toronto, April 4. Iowa — 
Sioux City, March 18. Wisconsin — Madison, March 27. Minnesota — 
Minneapoli.s, March 28. South Dakota — Yankton, March 18. North 
Dakota — Fargo, March 29. Wyoming — Wheatland, April 1. Mon- 
tana — Great Falls, April 28. Manitoba — Winnipeg, April 17. 
Alberta — Glenevis, April 4, 

Fall migration. — Late dates of fall departure are : Alberta — Belve- 
dere, October 22. Manitoba — Aweme, October 22. Wyoming — Wheat- 
land, October 27. North Dakota — Fargo, November 6. South Da- 
l:ota — Faulkton, November 15. Minnesota — St. Paul, October 22. 
Wisconsin — Kacine, November 4. Michigan — Lansing, November 28. 
Ontario — Ottawa, October 25. Iowa — Keokuk, October 26. Quebec — 
Quebec, November 23. New Brunswick — St. John, October 8. Maine — 
Portland, November 6. Vermont — St. Johnsbury, November 17. 
Massachusetts — Boston, November 20. New York — New York, 
November 14. 

Earl}^ dates of fall arrival are: North Dakota — Fargo, September 
29. South Dakota — Faulkton, September 18. Nebraska — Hastings, 
September 28. Kansa.s — Lawrence, October 1. Oklahoma — Norman, 
October 17. Texas — Commerce, October 30. 

Casual records. — A specimen was taken on Mount McKinley, Alaska. 
October 21, 1907; and there is a single breeding record for extreme 
southeastern Missouri. In the Bermuda Islands a specimen was taken 
from a group of three or four seen on November 24, 1870. 

Egg dates. — California : 33 records, April 16 to July 8 ; 17 records, 
May 19 to June 11, indicating the height of the season. 

New York: 36 records. May 5 to July 18; 18 records, May 17 to 
May 26. 

Ontario : 12 records. May 23 to June 11. 

Washington : 39 records, March 27 to July 15 ; 20 records, May 5 
to May 31. 



In naming and describing this subspecies, Thomas D. Burleigh 
(1935) says that it is "similar to Certhia familiaris americana, but 
crown and upper half of back distinctly darker, the prevailing color 
being fuscous black rather than sepia ; primaries darker and approach- 
ing clove brown; tail more grayish (hair brown); russet of rump 
darker ; underparts grayer." 

He gives the distribution as follows : "Breeds in the Canadian Zone 
of the southern xlppalachians from Pocahontas County, W. Va. 
(Cranberry Glades) , to the Great Smoky Mountains in western North 
Carolina and eastern Tennessee; winters at a lower altitude in this 
same region." 

Burleigh says further: "This southern race of the brown creeper 
is easily distinguished in fresh winter plumage by the lack of brown 
on the crown and the upper half of the back. In worn breeding 
plumage this character is somewhat obscure, but the color of the 
tail, hair brown rather than pale brown as in Certhia familiaris 
aTnericana^ is readily diagnostic, as are the darker primaries. Breed- 
ing birds taken in June and July are so badly worn that accurate meas- 
urements could not be taken, but apparently there is no appreciable 
difference in size in the two eastern races." 

This subsj)ecies is based on the study of 13 specimens taken in the 
above-mentioned localities. 



Plate 16 


The Eocky Mountain creeper enjoys the widest distribution of any 
of the w^estern races of the species. The 1931 Check-list states that it 
"breeds in boreal zones from central Alaska (Mt. McKinley), central 
British Columbia, and southern Alberta south in the Eocky Mountains 
to Arizona and New Mexico." Its smnmer range is at high altitudes 
in the mountains in the coniferous forests. In New Mexico, according 
to Mrs. Bailey (1928), it breeds mainly at altitudes ranging from 
7,500 to 9,000 feet; after the breeding season the birds w-ere noted 
as high as 12,000 feet on Pecos Balcly ; but it evidently drifts down to 
much louver levels in fall and winter. Dr. Mearns (1890) found it no 
lower than 6,500 feet in the Arizona mountains, where he found it 
"an abundant summer resident of the spruce, fir and aspen woods of 
high altitude, ranging to the timber line; much less common in the 


pines, to which it descends, however, in winter, when it is also occa- 
sionally seen in the cedars and pifions of the foot-hills, or in the de- 
ciduous timber along the streams in the valleys." In Colorado, W. C. 
Bradbury (1919) found it breeding at an altitude of nearly 11,000 
feet, almost up to timberline. Fred M. Packard writes to me from 
Estes Park, Colo. : "Pairs of these birds are scattered throughout the 
conifer forests of the park, the principal nesting habitat being in the 
Canadian and Hudsonian Zones. Between August and early October 
a number descend into the Transition Zone, some reaching the plains. 
Their upward migration is in April." 

Nesting. — The nesting habits, and apparently all other habits of the 
Eocky Mountain creeper, are similar to those of other races and need 
not be repeated here. Mr. Bradbury (1919) gives the following 
measurements of a nest that he found in Colorado: "The extreme 
dimensions of the nest, including foundation, are : Top to bottom, 7 
inches ; width, 5 inches. While the nest itself was 3 inches deep and 
4 inches broad in one direction, the restrictions due to its location con- 
fined it to a breadth of IY2. inches in the other direction. In fact, so 
limited was the space that the bark itself comprised one side of the 
cup, the latter being II/2 by 2 inches at the rim and li/^ inches deep." 

Eggs. — The eggs of this creeper are indistinguishable from those 
of the other races. The measurements of 20 eggs average 15.9 by 12.3 
millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.0 by 12.5, 
16.5 by 13.0, 15.2 by 12.2, and 15.5 by 11.1 millimeters. 

Winter. — Frank L. Farley, of Camrose, Alberta, tells me that num- 
bers of these creepers spend the winter in the spruce woods on the 
Battle River, south of Camrose. He has never seen them foraging 
on any trees but spruces, nor has he ever seen them there in summer, 
and on only one or two occasions as migrants. 



Plate 17 


This is a Mexican subspecies that extends its range into the United 
States for only a short distance into southern Arizona, with one record, 
probably of a straggler, into extreme southwestern New Mexico. 

We found the Mexican creeper fairly common in the pine forests of 
the Huachuca Mountains, above 8,000 feet and near the summits. The 
keen ears of my companion, Frank C. Willard, frequently heard the 
faint wiry notes of the birds, but I could not hear them and they were 
not easy to see, except when they flew from one tree to another. Numer- 
ous dead pines in this region offered attractive nesting sites. 

This subspecies differs from the other North American races in be- 


ing darker above and pale brownish gray below, white only on the 
chin and throat, and with a chestnut, rather than a tawny, rump. 

Nesting. — On more than one occasion we spent considerable time 
following a Mexican creeper about among the dead and living pines 
near the summit of the Huachuca Mountains, for we knew that eventu- 
ally the male would call the female off the nest to feed her. Twice 
the male came near what proved to be the nesting tree, and twice we 
saw him feed the female ; but it was not until the second time that we 
were able to trace her path back to the nest. She went into a little 
hole in a big piece of loose bark that hung under a branch, about 35 
feet from the ground and near the top of a scraggly dead pine. 

The foundation of the nest, which was firmly attached to the bark, 
consisted of dry pine needles and a few fine twigs; the cup of the 
nest was well made of fine strips of inner bark and it was profusely 
lined with feathers. Mr. Willard made the difficult climb to this nest 
(pi. 17) and secured a set of five fresh eggs on May 15, 1922. 

Another set of five eggs was taken, in the same locality on May 
30, from a similar nest placed behind a big slab of loose bark on a 
large dead pine, but only 6 feet above the ground. 

Eggs. — I have seen as many as six eggs and as few as four in sets 
of the Mexican creeper. These are similar to the eggs of other 
creepers, though what few eggs I have seen are of the finely speckled 
type. The measurements of 26 eggs average 15.3 by 11.8 millimeters; 
the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.4 by 11.4, 14.1 by 12.2, 
13.9 by 11.4, and 14.7 by 10.9 millimeters. 

Young. — Referring to the Huachuca Mountains, Swarth (1904b) 
writes : "About the middle of July young birds began to appear, and 
they seemed more abundant at this time than at any other. As with 
many other species breeding in the higher parts of the range, a down- 
ward movement began about this time, and though never descending 
to the foothills, in the late summer Creepers were found scattered all 
through the upper part of the oak belt. The juveniles seem to be 
attended by their parents for a long time, for up to the first week in 
September, when young and old were practically indistinguishable 
in size and general appearance, the families still clung together, and 
the old birds were seen continually feeding their offspring." 

This creeper seems to be only a summer resident in Arizona. 



Plate 18 


Dr. Wilfred H. Osgood (1901) described this form from specimens 
collected in the southern Cascade Mountains of Oregon and the Sierra 


Nevada of California, but its range has since been extended north- 
ward to southern British Columbia and northern Idaho, and south- 
ward to the San Jacinto Mountains of California. 

The characters given by the describer are: "Similar to Certhia f. 
OGcidentalis but colors more dusky and less ruf escent ; rump decidedly 
contrasted with rest of upper parts ; similar to Certhia f. montana but 
much darker; light centers of feathers on head and back much re- 
duced." In this race, the rump and upper tail coverts are between 
"chestnut" and "hazel," whereas in montana these parts are "cinna- 
mon-rufous." In OGcidentalis the color of the rump blends into that 
of the back, while in selotes and montana the colors of these parts are 
sharply contrasted. Dr. Osgood says further: "This subspecies has 
generally been included under the name occidentalis but it seems to 
be more similar to montana and its characters might be considered 
intermediate between those of these two. They are perfectly constant 
throughout its range, however, so that the form is easily recognizable." 

In the Lassen Peak region in summer Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale 
(1930) found the Sierra creeper above 3,300 feet, where it breeds. 
"The range of situations through which the brown creeper feeds is 
indicated by the following list of trees, on the trunks or limbs of which 
individuals were observed : valley oak, live oak, blue oak, digger pine, 
yellow pine, white fir, incense cedar, lodgepole pine. Deciduous trees 
predominate within the winter range of the creeper, while coniferous 
trees predominate in the territory occupied in summer." 

In the San Bernardino Mountains, in southern California, Dr. 
Grinnell (1907) found the Sierra creeper more numerous than he 
had ever seen it elsewhere. "While observed from an altitude of 
5,600 feet in the Santa Ana Canyon to as high as 9,500 feet, above 
Dry Lake, on the north base of San Gorgonio Peak, yet the creepers 
were most abundantly represented in the canyons from 6,000 to 7,500 
feet. This belt of abundance was also the belt in the Transition 
Zone where the incense cedar {Lihocedrus decurrens) is conspicu- 
ously represented." 

Nesting. — Keferring to his experience in the San Bernardinos, Dr. 
Grinnell (1907) writes: 

Although the majority of the nests found were on cedar trunks, one was 
on a Jeffrey pine, and at least five were on silver firs. In the latter cases 
the trees were dead and rotting, for it was only on dead trees that the bark 
had become loosened and separated enough from the trunk to afford the nar- 
row sheltered spaces sought by the creepers for nesting sites. But the huge 
living cedar trunks furnished the ideal situations. For the bark on these 
is longitudinally ridged and fibrous, and it frequently becomes split into inner 
and outer layers, the latter hanging in broad loose strips. The narrow spaces 
behind these necessitate a very compressed style of nest. A typical nest closely 
studied by me may be described as follows : 

The material employed externally was cedar bark strips one-eighth to one- 


half inch in width. This material had been deposited behind the loosened 
bark until it packed tightly enough to afford support for the nest proper. The 
bark strips extended down fully a foot in the cavity, and some of theln 
protruded thru the vertical slit which served the birds as an entrance., 

The main mass of the nest consisted of shredded weathered, inner bark strips 
of the willow, felted finest internally, where admixed with a few small 
down-feathers. This nest proper was 6 inches wide in the direction permitted 
by the space, and only 1% inches across the narrow way. The nest-cavity was 
1% by 21/4 inches, so that the sitting parent probably always occupied one position 
diametrically. * * * 

Myself and companions examined fully 30 nests, easily discovered after we 
once learned hew to find them, and of these I should judge the average height 
to have been 6 feet. In other words the majority could be at least touched 
by the hand as we stood on the ground. One nest was only 3 feet above 

Nests have been reported from other localities in similar situations, 
behind loose strips of bark on cedars and pines, which are the charac- 
teristic nesting sites of the species. Emerson A. Stoner (1938) , how- 
ever, reports a decided departure from the usual rule. He found a 
nest, in Solano Coimty, Calif., in "the end of a badly decayed laurel 
stub, 4 feet high and 5 inches in diameter. * * * The nest was 
open to the sky in the hollow tip of the decayed stub about 6 inches 
down in the hole, the inside measurement of the cavity being ap- 
proximately 3 inches in diameter. The nest was of fine, thread-like 
bark strips, matted with feathers and decaying wood dust. I recog- 
nized one of the feathers as that of a Steller Jay, and several were 
from a Horned Owl. The nesting stub was so badly decayed that 
it would have snapped off with very little pressure." 

Eggs. — As a rule, the eggs of all the western subspecies of the brown 
creeper are similar in number, shape, and coloration to those of the 
eastern race. Dr. Grinnell (1907) describes two sets of eggs, nine in 
all, taken in the San Bernardino Mountains, as follows : "The ground- 
color of the eggs is pure white. The markings are elongated in shape 
lengthwise of the egg. The brightest markings are burnt sienna, the 
tint varying from this towards vinaceous as the depth of the markings 
in the shell substance increases. The darkest markings average 1 
millimeter in diameter, while the vinaceous ones vary down to mere 
points. The markings are most crowded around the large end of 
the egg-shells, and radiate from this pole in lesser numbers towards 
the opposite pole." 

The measurements of 40 eggs average 15.1 by 11.4 millimeters; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.1 by 12.2, 14.7 by 12J2, 
14.0 by 10.9, and 15.0 by 10.0 millimeters. 

Young. — Irene G. Wheelock (1904) writes: 

Only 9 [?] days are required to hatch the small eggs, and the naked nestlings 
squirm and wriggle like so many pink mice in the cosy nest. They are slow 
in feathering, not being fully covered until 15 days old, and even then the down 


shows through the feathers in hair-like patches. According to the best of my 
observations with a powerful field glass, they are fed by regurgitation until 4 
days old. After that a visible supply of insect food is given them. Their tirst 
journey from home is a creeping about on the bark of the nest tree, to which 
they cling desperately, aided by their sharp little tails. Instinctively they pick 
at every crevice in the bark, and soon become so business-like about it that they 
are quite independent of the adults and of each other. 

The plumage changes, food, behavior, and voice of the Sierra 
creeper are all, apparently, similar to those of the other western 
subspecies and not very different from those of the eastern race. 

Winter. — Although permanently resident throughout)* the year in 
the Transition Zone of the mountains, the Sierra creeper to some 
extent wanders down into the foothills and into somewhat different 
environments in winter. In the Lassen Peak region, Grinnell, Dixon, 
and Linsdale (1930) found it "present in winter on the western slope 
down to the lowest altitudes. * * * Although seen usually in 
rather thick woods, creepers sometimes were found, as at 7 miles east 
of Red Bluff on December 30, 1927, on the trunks of small, far- 
separated blue oaks. In winter single creepers were sometimes seen 
moving along with flocks of feeding bush-tits and kinglets." 

John G. Tyler (1913) writes: "The winter of 1910-11 was remark- 
able for the number of unusual visitants among our avian friends, 
that appeared in the vicinity of Fresno. By no means the least inter- 
esting of these were the little creepers, which occurred quite nmner- 
ously in the willow trees that border some of the larger ditches, and 
doubtless elsewhere as well." 




The California creeper occupies the long coastal strip from Sitka, 
Alaska, to Monterey County, Calif., living in the Canadian and 
Transition Zones. Whereas the other western races of the brown 
creeper are mountain birds, during the breeding season at least, this 
coastal race seems to live and breed at much lower levels, even almost 
down to sea level. In California it breeds in the great redwood forests, 
and from there down as far as the Point Lobos Reserve, where Grinnell 
and Linsdale (1936) found it nesting in the pines. There "a slight 
preference was shown for the thicker stands of trees, especially where 
there were old trunks, but this bird followed other species even out 
among scattered young trees; probably the whole area of pines was 

D. E. Brown showed me some of his favorite collecting grounds 
near South Tacoma, Wash., in which the California creeper was breed- 
ing quite commonly, together with several other interesting birds 


such as Oregon and chestnut-backed chickadees, western golden- 
crowned kinglets, and Audubon's warblers. It was a large tract of 
smooth, level, prairielike country that supported a fine open growth 
of large cedars, two or three species of firs, and a few scattering oaks. 

Ridgway (1904) called this the tawny creeper, an appropriate name, 
also used by others. He says that it is "similar to G. f. zelotes, but 
browner and more suffused with tawny above; wing-markings more 
pronouncedly buff; under parts more buffy (about as in G. f. 
americana) ." 

Nesting. — In the locality referred to above, near South Tacoma, 
Mr. Brown showed me a new nest of the California creeper, which he 
had found building ; it was not over 3 feet from the gromid, under a 
piece of hanging bark on a small, dead oak. This is the locality in 
which J. H. Bowles tried his interesting and successful experiment 
of providing artificial nesting sites for these birds. As he (1922) says, 
he "selected trees with very smooth bark, or else cut the bark down 
smooth, and nailed against them bark shelters 15 inches or more in 
length, and 3 or 4 inches in width, leaving a space inside of about 3 
inches between the bark and the tree. This inside space will, of course, 
be tapering towards the bottom, but creepers require a considerable 
depth for their nests, which are started by a large foundation of 
twigs, on top of which is built the nestcup of soft bark, feathers, etc." 

Prof. Gordon D. Alcorn (MS.) adds the following specifications: 
"This bark nailed at a convenient height against a vertical tree was 
furnished with a leaning bark roof and bark floor. With a pocket 
knife we carved an entrance on each side immediately beneath the 
roof. The creepers apparently did not care whether the site was 
natural or not, but they did appear to be rather particular about the 
entrances. They demanded two. If but one was present, the birds 
rejected our offering." 

Dawson (1923) says that "from a line of, say, 35 or 40 traps he 
gathers an annual vintage of 5 or 6 sets of creepers' eggs. It is only 
fair to add that the birds profit in the long run by this arrangement 
for they are allowed to raise second broods undisturbed throughout 
an area which offers no other shelter." 

Mr. Bowles writes elsewhere (1908) : 

Nest building commences about the third week in April, either an oak or a fir 
being selected for the pui-pose. The only exception I have ever known to this 
was one bird that I had watched until it disappeared under a strip of bark fully 
60 feet up in a giant cedar. * * * The nest is placed, as a rule, from 2 to 20 
feet above the ground, tho tbe majority that I have seen were under 10 feet. 
* * * In its composition the nest has a groundwork of twigs, the size of which 
depends entirely on the dimensions of the space between the bark and the main 
trunk of the tree. Sometimes only a scant handful is sufficient, while in one 
nest the twigs would have filled a quart measure to overflowing. Slender dead 
fir twigs, from 4 to 8 inches long, are almost invariably used, and this must fre- 


quently be a most arduous piece of business. Twigs have to be thrust into the 
crevice until the first dozen or so lodge firmly, then the rest is easy. In every 
nest quite a little mound of twigs is found on the ground below, showing how 
persevering the little architects must have been in the face of repeated failure. 
Probably they consider such twigs as unsuitable; at any rate it never seems to 
occur to them to pick up a twig when once it has fallen. Scattered amongst this 
network of twigs is always a little green moss and a considerable amount of 
down taken fi-om ferns, willows and cotton-woods. What purpose these serve, 
beyond ornamentation, must be known only to the birds themselves. On top, 
and firmly embedded, is the egg cup of the nest, which is composed of a thick 
felting of fine strips from the inner bark of the cedar, with occasionally a few 

Dawson (1910) tells of a nest that contained, in the cup alone, 
"cowhair (red and black and white), feathers, horsehair, moss, fine 
bark, macerated weed-stems, chips, fir needles, bits of white cloth, 
ravelings, string, cocoons, spider-egg cases, catkins, moth-wings, and 
vegetable fiber." This was a very unusual collection of material. 

S. F. Rathbun sends me the following very good description of a 
nest of the California creeper, found near Tacoma, Wash., on June 2, 
1912 : "The base of the nest was entirely of bits of bark and rotten 
wood, this being merely a mass of material lying at the bottom of the 
space behind the bark. On this was very uniformly placed dry hemlock 
and fir twigs, these being of a length that conformed perfectly to the 
spaces remaining at each side of the nest proper, many of these twigs 
being bent to accomplish this ; generally their ends projected upward 
with the tips curving somewhat beneath; and among these twigs were 
many flat, thin pieces of inner fir bark and a little rotten wood. What 
may be called the nest proper was entirely of plant fibres of a grayish 
color, finely shredded and very soft, this having the appearance of 
wool, as it was very elastic ; and this material was firmly bound on its 
inner surface by a few horsehairs. It was not carelessly built in any 
way, but was neatly and carefully put together, and, unlike some others 
of its kind, substantially built." 

Eggs. — Creepers' eggs are all about alike and show similar varia- 
tions. Those of this subspecies are no exception to the rule. The 
measurements of 40 eggs of this race average 15.5 by 11.9 millimeters; 
the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.7 by 12.4, 16.2 by 12.5, 
14.0 by 11.2, and 14.6 by 11.1 millimeters. 

Food. — Professor Beal (1907) writes: "Only seven stomachs of the 
California creeper were available for examination, but they confirm the 
good opinion observers have formed of the habits of this bird. Like 
the titmice and nuthatches, the creeper is an indefatigable forager on 
the trunks and branches of trees, and the food it obtains there is of the 
same nature — that is, small beetles (many of them weevils), wasps, 
ants, bugs, caterpillars, and a few spiders. 

"Of the seven stomachs examined, only one contained vegetable food, 


and this had only 19 percent of seed, too much digested for identi- 

Grinnell and Linsdale (1936) saw one "fly out 12 to 15 inches and 
catch a flying insect." 

Winter. — All through the winter, California creepers wander about, 
mostly in pairs or singly, but often associated with the merry little 
bands of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and kinglets. But they al- 
ways seem absorbed in their own affairs, diligently searching for their 
food on the tree trunks ; their association with other species is probably 
due to a community of interest rather than to a desire for company, 
for creepers are not especially sociable. 


In naming and describing this local race, Mr. van Kossem (1931) 
says: "Among the North American races of Gerthia famiUaris this 
is the palest and grayest. Dorsally the coloration resembles, in the 
absence of brown tones, Gerthia famiUaris alhesceiis Berlepsch, but 
is much paler and the streaks are pure white instead of pale gi*ay. 
Ventrally leucostiota is clear pure white, tinged on the flanks with 
pale gray and on the under l^il coverts with pale clay color. 

Van Kossem gives the range as "Transition and Alpine Zones in 
the Sheep and Charleston Mountains, Clark County, Nevada." 

"The five specimens," he says, "on which the new form is based 
are uniform in characters and bear little resemblance to Gerthia 
famiUaris zelotes Osgood of the Sierra Nevada, or to Gerthia famil- 
iaris montana Ridgway of the Rocky Mountains, with good series of 
both of which races they have been compared. In the relative amount 
of white on the dorsal surface there is close agreement between 
leuGOsticta and montana., but while in montana light brown tones 
prevail, leucosticta is ashy and practically colorless dorsally except on 
the rump." 

Family CHAMAEIDAE : Wren-tits 



The coast wren-tit is the northern race of this California species. 
It occupies the humid Transition Zone on the Pacific coast of Oregon, 
from the Columbia River southward to the vicinity of the northern 
boundary of California. Like many other races of that humid coast 
strip, it is the darkest race of the species. Ridgway (1904) calls it 
the dusky wren-tit and describes it as similar to the ruddy wren-tit, 


its nearest neighbor on the south, "but still darker, the back, etc., deep 
sepia brown, the pileum and hindneck nearly clove brown, the general 
color of under parts deep vinaceous-cinnamon or fawn color, with 
streaks on throat and chest broader (those on throat nearly black)." 
Evidently the colors of the different races of this species become pro- 
gressively darker and richer as the range extends northward. 

Bernard J. Bretherton (Woodcock, 1902) says: "This species is 
only met with on a strip of land lying directly along the ocean. Its 
range is inseparable from the Manzanita bush, and, as far as I know, 
Yaquina Bay is the limit of its northern range, and it is not found 
anywhere in our state east of the Coast Range." 

Dr. Mary M. Erickson (1938) has contributed such a full and inter- 
esting life history of the type race, Chaniaea fasciata fasciata^ that 
there is practically nothing to be added on the habits of this sub- 
species and very little on the habits of the other races. 

There are four nests of this wren-tit, with sets of four or three eggs 
each, in the Thayer collection in Cambridge. One was placed in a 
maple bush, one in a salmonberry bush, one in a huckleberry, and one 
in a myrtle bush. They are all neat and compactly woven baskets, 
deeply hollowed and with the rims curved inward at the top. They 
are made of a variety of plant fibers, w^ed stalks, and weed blossoms, 
bound together with strips of grapevine bark, fine grasses, cattle hair, 
and spider webs; the lining consists of still finer grass and much 
horsehair or cowhair. One nest has considerable green moss worked 
into the rim. Externally they measure about 3 inches in height and 
about the same in diameter; the inner cavity is about 2 inches in 
diameter at the top and about ly^ inches in depth. 

The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the other races of the 
species. They vary in shape from ovate to short-ovate and have only 
a slight gloss. The color varies from "pale glaucous blue" to bluish 
white, and they are immaculate. The measurements of 24 eggs average 
18.6 by 14.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 
21.4 by 14.0, 17.8 by 14.7, 17.4 by 14.3, and 17.8 by 13.5 millimeters. 



Farther south along the coast of California, from Del Norte County 
south to Santa Cruz County, in the humid coast strip, is the range of 
the ruddy wren-tit. This race is not so dark as the coast wren-tit, but 
it is darker and more richly colored than the type race, Gambel's 
wren-tit, of the San Francisco Bay region. Ridgway (1904) char- 
acterizes it as "similar to C. f. fasciata^ but more richly colored, the 
general color of under parts deep pinkish cinnamon or dull vinaceous- 


cinnamon, the upper parts darker and browner (back, rump, and 
upper tail-coverts bistre or sepia) ." 

Apparently what has been written about the habits of the neighbor- 
ing type race would apply equally well, in most respects at least, to the 
subspecies. I can find nothing in the literature to indicate anything 
peculiar in its habits. Its rich coloring is probably due to its humid 
coast habitat. 

There are two sets of eggs with nests of this wren-tit in the Thayer 
collection in Cambridge. One nest, containing three eggs, was placed 
against the trunk of a fir tree among some azaleas, at Eureka, Calif. 
The other nest, taken at Sonoma on May 17, 1895, contained five 
eggs ; this nest is similar to nests of the coast wren-tit but is somewhat 
less bulky and made of finer materials, with many spider nests on the 
exterior, and lined with very fine grass and hair; it measures 2^^ 
inches in height and 3 inches in diameter, externally ; the inner cavity 
is 2 inches in diameter and 1% inches in depth. 

The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the other wren-tits. 
The measurements of 35 eggs average 18.3 by 14.3 millimeters; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 21.0 by 14.8, 19.9 by 15.0, 
16.6 by 14.3, and 18.4 by 13.8 millimeters. 

^ Plates 19-21 

Contributed by Mary M. Erickson * 

The wren-tit is a bird that many do not have an opportunity to know, 
since it represents a monotypic family and its range is restricted to a 
narrow belt along the Pacific coast from south of the Columbia River 
down into Baja California. It is principally a bird of the wind-swept 
brushland of the immediate coast at the northern end of its range, but 
in California it is found everywhere west of the Sierras in the extensive 
chaparral belt or in the brushy margins of the forests and streams. 
Even in the area in which it occurs it is better known by its voice than 
by its appearance. Casual visitors to the chaparral ask what bird 
makes the loud-ringing call that may come from the distant ridge or 
with surprising suddenness from within the nearby bushes. But even 
if one knows it is nearby it is not easy to see this dweller of the brush- 
land, for it rarely leaves the endless expanse of twigs within the leafy 
crown to come into the open at the top or to the ground below. If one 
has the time and patience to wait nearby, its own curiosity will often 
bring it within view. With practice one can glimpse them, but it is 
never easy to see them clearly or follow them for any distance. 

* Derived largely from Erickson, "Territory, Annual Cycle, and Numbers in a Population 
of Wren-tits," 1938. 


The subspecies under consideration, which lives along the coast from 
San Francisco Bay south to southern Monterey County, I watched 
intensively for four years. Most of the work was done in a small can- 
yon containing 16.7 acres of brush near Berkeley, Calif. In this canyon 
nearly all the wren-tits were banded and marked so that they could be 
recognized as individuals. 

Spring. — The wren-tit is classified as a permanent resident, and this 
residency is of the most restricted sort. Individuals probably rarely 
go more than a few miles from the place of their birth. Adults that 
have once nested spend most of the remainder of their lives on the half 
to two and a half acres of brushland used during the first nesting. In 
spring, then, the wrentit population is essentially static. Pairs are 
established on breeding territories, many of them with the same mate 
on essentially the same territory they have held a year or more. Indi- 
viduals that have died have been replaced by a male accepting a new 
mate from among the young-of-the-year or a widowed female joining 
a bereaved male or a young male establishing himself. All suitable 
ground is held by one pair or another. A few individuals, either un- 
able to secure a territory or mate, or for some reason not ready to do 
so at the normal time, wander through the territories of established 
individuals and are driven from one to another by them. However, 
vacancies that may occur are quickly filled from the ranks of these 

The activities of the pair at this time, as they are all the year except 
during the breeding season, are concerned with finding food for them- 
selves and defending their territory. The pair are constantly together 
as they work through their segment of the limitless chaparral hunting 
for food. They keep in touch with each other by frequent calls. The 
male often pauses to sing, and echoing calls are given by other males. 

If a jay perches nearby, they scold it. Occasionally they pause to 
rest or preen. If their movements bring them to the margin of their 
home area or territory, they usually turn back and continue the end- 
less search for food. If they continue until they reach the extreme 
limit of their territory or go into the margin of the adjoining one, 
they are invariably met by the owners of this area and a boundary 
dispute occurs. The fighting that takes place is never prolonged or 
violent, and the infringing pair soon retreat to their own area and 
both pairs continue to forage. Rarely, an individual seeking to es- 
tablish itself may invade the territory and is persistently harrassed 
by the owner as long as it remains, or possibly, if the territory is 
unusually large, the owner will relinquish part of it to the newcomer. 

Oourtshi'p. — Courtship activities of a pair so constantly hidden are 
not easily observed. Pairs seemingly are originally formed by a fe- 


male joining a male that has, or is establishing himself on, a territory. 
Two birds of the year, which I believe are a male and a female, are 
often seen together during fall and winter, but these seem to be transi- 
tory attachments, and the female will leave such a male to join an 
established one. 

I once observed what appeared to be the establishment of a male 
on a territory and his acquisition of a mate. In a patch of brush 
that had not been occupied on the previous days, a young banded male 
was observed in the morning between 7 :30 and 9 o'clock. During this 
time he went from the upper end to the lower and back to the upper, 
and except for a few brief intervals sang on an average of 5 times a 
minute — approximately 450 utterances. Wlien he was at the top the 
second time, his calls were low and of poor carrying quality, but here 
a second wrentit was heard and glimpsed for the first time. The two 
moved down the the slope again. I heard no sounds except a single 
song and a lirTT answer, but low notes would not have reached me. 
About 9 :30 the pair were lost in the lower part of the territory. At 
11 :30 I looked for them again and found them behaving as any es- 
tablished pair would behave. 

What actions take place as the pair first meet were never seen in 
the field. When a female was put into a cage containing two males 
and a female, the subsequent rapid movements of the four birds were 
exceedingly difficult to follow. The actions of the original female 
were mainly hostile. Lightning advances and retreats occurred be- 
tween the two males and the new female, accompanied by a variety of 
soft musical and harsh notes as well as those common during disputes. 
The frequency of these chases decreased markedly by the end of the 
day, and soon the new female acted as the typical mate of one of the 

Most of the time there is little activity to indicate that two birds 
are mates except their constant companionship. They forage to- 
gether, they frequently preen each other, they rest on the same perch 
during the day, and they roost together at night. Their interest in 
each other moves toward a peak, as shown by sexual flight and special 
versions of the song as they build the nest, and it reaches its climax 
in coition on the days the nest is lined. In sexual flight the female 
continually hops or flies away from the male as he approaches, so that 
a rapid chase takes place. Posturing was never observed, but it may 
occur, since it would be difficult to observe it. 

Once mated, the pair remain together as long as both are alive. Of 
the pairs I knew, five existed at least three years and a sixth for 2i^ 
years. Six pairs were together for 2 years and may have existed prior 
to or after my knowledge of them. Only five pairs were known to have 
lasted only 1 year. Wlien a pair was broken up, one or both members 


of it disappeared completely and presumably must have been killed, 
thougli this was only definitely known to be true in 1 of IT cases. 

Nesting. — The nest is placed in one of the bushes that make up the 
chaparral home of the species. It is usually not in a continuous dense 
mass of brush, but at its margin where a rock outcrop, less in height 
than the brush, or a trail or clearing makes a break ; or if the chaparral 
is sparse the nest may be in any small bushy plant. I have found nests 
in coyotebush {BacchaHs pilularis), artemisia, hazelnut, stick mon- 
keyflower, and poison oak. Mailliard (1902) and A. H. Miller (MS.) 
have found them in live oaks, and Kay (1909) in an alder. In chapar- 
ral where other plants dominate, other shrubs are used. 

From the nature of the habitat, the height of the nest above ground 
usually cannot be great and averages 18 to 24 inches. The lowest that 
I found was 12 inches, the highest 42 inches. The nests in trees men- 
tioned above were 12 and 15 feet up. 

Support, both under and at the sides of the nest, is usually found in 
a group of horizontal or vertical twigs built into or lashed to the nest. 
Occasionally a crotch of larger limbs is used. The nest is placed so 
that leafy twigs screen it from view on all sides. 

The nest, a compact cup, is built by both members of the pair. It 
is begun by stretching a cobweb network between the twigs that are 
to form the support. Then coarse bark fibers are introduced, spar- 
ingly at first, until a saucerlike platform from y2 inch to 1^/^ inches 
thick and about 4 inches in diameter is formed. Fine bark strips are 
then placed on the outer rim until a deep cup is formed. Throughout 
the construction of the platform and cup, masses of cobweb are 
stretched over and interwoven with the bark fiber to bind it together 
and hold it in place. Cobweb is also stretched over the rim until it 
becomes smooth and firm. Finally a lining of fine round fibers is 
inserted in the cup, and tiny bits of lichen may be, though are not 
always, fastened to the outside. The type of bark used depends 
largely on the type of brush nearby. I have seen them strip bark 
from the dead or weathered branches of old-man sage, lupine, snow- 
berry, thimbleberry, ninebark, baccharis or coyotebush, cow parsnip, 
and elderberry. The lining was often taken from the outer coat 
of the bulb of the soap plant, but fine grasses or hair are also used. 
Abandoned nests are a common source of material for later nests. The 
diificulty of finding nests makes the case uncertain, but I believe only 
one nest is worked on at a time, though a nest may be left incomplete 
and another begun. 

The nest, though it may be the center of the birds activity for up- 
ward of a month, is not necessarily near the center of the territory. 
Of 47 nests that I observed, 60 percent were near the margin rather 
than the center. Successive nests of the same year or succeeding years 


may be near together or widely separated. The male often sings 
within 25 feet or less of the nest as he goes to it or leaves, but with 
equal frequency from other parts of the territory. 

Eggs. — The number of eggs in a set is usually four, but sets of 
three are not infrequent and sets of five occur occasionally. There is 
some evidence that the smaller sets are laid by the younger females or 
early in the season and the larger sets by older females or late in the 
season. The eggs are usually laid early in the morning on successive 
days. They are oval and of a uniform pale greenish blue. There are 
no markings of any kind and the surface is dull. A single brood of 
young is reared each year, but if the eggs or nestlings are destroyed, 
the birds will lay as many as four or five sets during the nesting 
season, which at Berkeley lasts from March to July. 

[Author's note: The measurements of 40 eggs average 18.1 by 
14.5 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 19.6 by 
16.0, 16.3 by 14.2, and 17.8 by 12,7 millimeters.] 

Incubation. — The incubation period was 16 days for three sets of 
eggs that I observed and was probably the same in two other cases. 
Newberry (1916), however, observed a nest in which the eggs hatched 
in 15 days. The adults spend at least some time on the nest after the 
second egg is laid, but in all cases that I observed, continuous incuba- 
tion began on the day the next-to-the-last ^gg is laid; hence usually 
on the day the third is laid. In the nest watched by Newberry a lapse 
of 3 days occurred between laying and the beginning of incubation. 

During the days of incubation the activities of the pair follow a set 
pattern. The female incubates at night. About 20 minutes after sun- 
rise (the wren-tit is a relatively late riser) the male sings from his roost- 
ing perch. The female responds with her call, and both often repeat 
them. In 10 or 15 minutes the male comes to the nest bush, and when 
he is within a few inches the female leaves. Her first action is to 
stretch thoroughly, then in a few moments she is off in search of food. 
In 15 or 20 minutes she returns, and when she is close to the nest her 
mate leaves. He sings almost at once and frequently while he is for- 
aging and patrolling his territory and as he approaches the nest again. 
Similar exchanges continue throughout the day though the shifts 
gradually lengthen to 45 or 60 minutes during midday and again 
shorten toward sunset. Finally when the female returns to the nest 
within 30 minutes or less of sunset no more changes occur. The male 
sings often as dusk approaches, and his last songs come from near or 
on the roosting perch. 

Young. — The eggs of a set hatch within a period of 24 hours. In 
two nests that I observed, two eggs hatched early one morning, a third 
later in the day, and a fourth the following morning. During the first 
35 days the young are constantly brooded by one or the other of the 

758066 — 48 7 


adults except for the brief moment when one leaves and the other feeds 
before settling on the nests. Older young are left uncovered for short 
intervals during the warm parts of the day and may not be brooded at 
all the last few days before fledging. 

Food is brought on each return of the adults at intervals at 15 to 
30 minutes when the adults are brooding and of 5 minutes or less when 
the young are older. The food, which is carried in the bill and is 
often a conspicuous mass of green larvae, is placed in the mouths of one 
or more young while the parent perches on the rim of the nest. At 
first there is usually some for each of the three or four young, later only 
one or two receive food at each visit. The first to raise its head if only 
by a fraction of a second, is served first. One receiving no food will 
continue to hold its head up, and often the adult rapidly and repeatedly 
thrusts its bill into the upturned throat. There is probably no regurgi- 
tation of food, for the bill and throat of the adult seem quite empty. 
The slight jar caused by the adult landing on the nest or nearby twigs 
is the signal to the young that a meal is at hand. The adults seem to 
have no specific calls to their young. The fecal sacs are eaten by the 
adult, if it remains on the nest, or are carried away, if it does not brood. 

The young are naked at hatching. By the third day many of the 
feathers show as slight irregularities on the surface. By the fifth day 
the feathers show as slight ridges, with the tips protruding above the 
surface of the skin, and the resting posture is upright rather than on 
the side. By the tenth day the young when huddled in the nest seem 
completely covered but the feathers do not actually cover the apteria 
until the twelfth or thirteenth day. At this age the young stand up 
in the nest, stretch, preen, vibrate their wings, and give a faint food 

On the fifteenth or sixteenth day after hatching, the young leave the 
nest. On two occasions of which I have record, they left before 7 : 30 on 
the fifteenth day. One family was evidently frightened from the nest 
when only 13 or 14 days old, and two of the three young survived. The 
brood that Newberrj'^ watched all left the nest explosively at 1 : 30 on 
the sixteenth day. Twice that I know of, one of the young remained 
in the nest several hours or a day longer than the others. At the time 
the young leave the nest, the body is well covered, but the wing feathers 
are not fully grown and the tail is scarcely an inch long. The iris is 
white as in the adult. 

The first day out of the nest the young are easily located by their 
frequent calls. They remain perched most of the time. If forced 
to move they progress by a series of short hops accompanied by prob- 
ably useless fluttering of the wings, but they are not sure-footed and if 
hurried often fail to gain the intended perch and scramble desperately 
to gain a footing and recover their balance. I was able to catch and 
band two such families. By the following day the young respond to 


the alarm note of their parents with frozen silence, and it is next to 
impossible to locate them. They also move with such facility that they 
cannot be taken. By the fifth day they move with as much skill and 
ease as the adults. By the time the young are 30 to 35 days old they 
are probably securing some food for themselves, but still beg from and 
are fed by their parents. A week later they scold as do the adults. By 
the time they are 9 or 10 weeks old they are no longer dependent on 
the adults and wander or possibly are driven, from the adults' territory. 

Plv/mages. — The young at hatching are without down and the only 
vestige of a down plumage that ever develops is the 2- to 3-millimeter 
neossoptiles on the tips of the rectrices. 

[Author's note: Ridgway (1904) says that the young are "similar 
to adults but texture of plumage looser, color of pileum and hindneck 
less grayish (concolor with that of back) and that of under parts 
duller and grayer." A small young bird in my collection, of the sub- 
species henshawi^ in juvenal plumage, fits the above description, ex- 
cept that the under parts are more buffy than in the adults, "pinkish 

The postnuptial molt of adults, and apparently the postjuvenal molt 
of young birds, occur mainly in August, though some young birds 
may molt earlier in the season. I have seen adults in worn plumage 
up to August 10, others that were still molting on September 10, 
and still others that had nearly or quite completed the molt on 
September 3.] 

.Food. — The wren-tit's diet consists of insects, which are taken all 
the year but in great abundance during spring and summer, and small 
fruits, which are taken when available, principally during fall and 
winter. F. E. L. Beal's (1907) study of 165 stomachs sTiows that, of 
the 48 percent of vegetable food taken, 36 percent consisted of elder- 
berries, snowberries, coffeeberries, twinberries, blackberries, and the 
fruit of poison oak. The poison-oak berries, which remain in an 
edible condition on the bushes for a long time, made up a fourth of 
the diet from August to February. I have seen all of these fruits 
eaten and in addition thimbleberries, huckleberries, and toyonberries. 
The insect food that Beal found to make up 52 percent of the food con- 
sisted of 23 percent ants and small wasps, 10 percent beetles, 8 percent 
caterpillars, 7 percent bugs, principally scales, 2 percent spiders, a 
few flies, and in one case each the remains of a grasshopper and a wood- 
cricket. I successfuly kept wren-tits in captivity on a diet consisting 
of mixtures for soft -billed birds, banana, cottage cheese, lettuce, bread 
crumbs, and occasional live insects and wild berries. The young are 
fed principally on caterpillars, spiders and their cocoons and eggs, 
leafhoppers and other bugs, and small beetles. I have also seen adults 
come to a feeding table and get bread crumbs to feed their nestlings 
and fledglings. 


The wren-tit finds its food principally on the bark surfaces, and to a 
less extent on the leaves and fruiting stems. Karely they go to the 
ground. Not infrequently an individual flies up and hangs inverted 
while hunting among the leaves of live oaks for larvae, as a bushtit 
or titmouse might do. A few times individuals hovered at sticky 
monkey flowers. Once one caught a small butterfly which flew near, 
snipped off its wings, and swallowed the body. 

Small objects, such as most of the insects and poison-oak berries, 
are swallowed whole; large ones are broken up. After obtaining a 
large morsel, the wren-tit resorts to a twig, places the object under 
one foot, and pulls off small pieces with its bill. Snowberries and 
thimbleberries are regularly handled in this way, elderberries some- 
times. The berry is pecked until the skin is broken, and then pieces 
are pulled off and swallowed. Seeds met with are discarded, though 
the large flesh-coated seed of poison oak is swallowed and later dis- 
gorged. Large bread crimibs were held with the foot, or small pieces 
were broken off with a quick shake of the head. 

Wren-tits drink water when it is available either from pools or the 
drops of moisture that collect on the leaves, but in much of their 
range they appear to do without water for periods of several weeks. 

Behavior. — A wren-tit's habitat is such that most of its movements 
are a series of hops or flights of a few feet from one twig to the next. 
Individuals do not cross open spaces of even 30 or 40 feet readily or 
frequently. The longest flight I observed was about 150 feet over 
open grassland, but such flights are unusual. 

Care of the plumage, which involves the usual preening and bath- 
ing, has two features of special interest. Preening is usually done by 
the individual's working over the feathers with its bill, or where the 
bill cannot reach, with its foot Not infrequently, however, the mem- 
bers of a pair or family preen one another. The activity is usually 
limited to the region of the head but sometimes includes the feathers 
of the back, sides, breast, and crissum. The method is always the 
same : the bill is thrust into the feathers and a single one is manipu- 
lated between the mandibles from the calamus to the tip of the vane. 
Bathing in puddles when they occur near bushes includes the usual 
bobbing and splashing, but the plumage is moistened by a series of 
momentary dips rather than one long one. Rain- or fog-moistened 
brush is perhaps a commoner source of water for bathing. Birds 
move about in the leafy crowns, brushing and bumping against the 
wet leaves until their plumage is well dampened, and then the cus- 
tomary shaking and preening take place. Once a bird was obsei*ved 
to dust-bathe. 

I observed the roosting habits in both cage and wild birds and 
found that the pair, and presumably a family, roost together. A pair 


sit side by side, facing in the same direction and so near together that 
they appear as a single ball of feathers from which tails, wings, and 
feet protrude — an appearance that is not accidental but is produced 
by fluffing, spreading, and interlacing the body feathers to such a 
degree that when the heads are turned to the outside and buried under 
the scapulars a single ball remains without so much as a line of 
separation. This arrangement of the feathers is an active process 
involving both movements of the feathers by the muscles that control 
them and manipulation of them with the bill. Usually the birds sit 
so low that the body feathers touch the perch and partly conceal the 
toes, but sometimes the bodies are well above the perch and then 
one can see that the inner leg of each bird is drawn into the feather 
mass and the weight supported on the outside leg. The angle of the 
leg to the body suggests that the two birds are braced against each 
other. In the wild the roost is a horizontal branch within the crown 
of a bush. The same roost is used frequently but not necessarily on 
successive nights. 

The fighting between adjoining pairs that takes place during bound- 
ary disputes rarely deserves the name. The head feathers of the 
contestants are raised, the long tail cocked sharply up, the body 
crouched and tense. Each bird eyes its opponent and shifts its posi- 
tion or perch as if sparring for an opening. One or more may utter 
a staccato ter ter or a continuous pit. This action may go on for only 
a moment or for 15 minutes or longer. If it is prolonged one bird 
may fly at the other, but the latter makes a quick shift and is a foot 
or two away when the attacker reaches the empty perch. This con- 
tinues as the opponents move rapidly through a bush, or along the 
boundary or back and forth across it. Sometimes the pursuer becomes 
the pursued. Rarely, the combatants fly at each other and momen- 
tarily flutter through the brush or on the ground, bills clicking and 
wings striking. Eventually one pair, usually the invaders, works 
back toward the center of its territory, and the other soon does like- 
wise. The defending male usually sings, the invader sometimes does. 

Wren-tits are persistent in scolding the California jays, which enter 
their territory during the breeding season. When a jay is discovered 
the pair circle or follow it, constantly hopping about and uttering a 
krrring sound until the jay moves on out of their territory. The jays 
seem quite indifferent, but I found this habit useful in two ways. One 
was in marking the territory of a pair by where they began and 
ceased to scold jays. The other was to attract marked birds I wished 
to identify to a given point by putting up a mounted jay. This ruse 
worked only for a short time, but it did enable me to learn the identity 
of several individuals. 

Various actions of the wren-tit disclose the approximate location 


of the nest, though in my experience the nest is not easily found. An 
intruder near the nest is scolded persistently and vigorously with a 
krrring note, which becomes intenser as one nears the nest and de- 
creases as one moves away from it. During the incubation period 
patient watching and listening should indicate the point from which 
the male sings as he goes to the nest and as he leaves. In either case, 
a search of the likely bushes in the region so indicated may reveal 
the nest. Finding the nest by watching adults carrying food is com- 
paratively easy in this species. I never found that a random hunt 
through the bushes paid dividends. 

The reaction of a wren-tit on a nest to an intruder varied in my 
experience. If the approach is quiet, the wren-tit usually remains on 
the nest until the hand is brought within a few inches. Then it silently 
slips off into the surrounding brush. Here it may remain quiet or it 
may scold. Sometimes the song or pit-pit call is given. Twice I was 
successful in painting a spot on the tail of an incubating bird. Three 
times birds with young exploded from the nest and fluttered and 
tumbled through the brush rapidly vibrating their wings, but these 
cases were the exception. 

A wren-tit rarely, if ever, deserts eggs or young. Several nests I 
found in the early stages of construction were subsequently completed 
and used. Others were not, though there was no direct evidence that 
my discovery caused the desertion. One pair continued to incubate 
although work on a nearby trail pulled the nest into an exposed 
position at the top of the brush. 

Voice. — The wren-tit is best known by its song, a series of loud- 
ringing whistlelike notes all on the same pitch and given at decreas- 
ing intervals until they run together into a trill. Grinnell (1913) 
recorded it as pit — j>^i — P^^ — V^^ — pit-tr-r-r-r-r. Slight variations 
occur. A common one is an increase or decrease in the number of 
^^pits^\ Another, peculiar to a few individuals, is a short tr note 
at the end of the trill. Other variations of quality and rhythm and 
slight change in pitch and duration occur. The song is usually 
given while the bird is hidden within the leafy crown, but it may be 
given by a bird on a semiopen perch at the top of a bush. It may 
be given repeatedly from a single perch or as a momentary interrup- 
tion while a bird is foraging. The singing posture is alert, the 
head raised, the tail tilted upward. The entire body, especially the 
throat and tail, vibrates in rhythm with the notes. 

The full song is given throughout the entire year and is charac- 
teristic of the male. Many times I have identified the member of 
a marked pair that was singing, and only once was it the female. 
She gave it a few times while her mate was fighting with a neigh- 
boring male. From my experience I believe that, except during a 


territorial dispute, the bird giving the song may be assumed to be 
the male. The song appears to have a double purpose. It is used 
as an announcement of territorial possession. One male sings, a 
neighbor sings, the first repeats its song, and so on until most males 
are echoing the song. The male often sings as he advances to drive 
an intruder out of his territory. It also serves as a call or answer 
to his mate as will be described below. 

What might be considered another variation of the song is actually 
a distinct call. It is similar to the song in quality, intensity, and 
pitch, but all the notes of the series are given with the same rhythm, 
so that it does not end in a trill. As compared with the song, it 
might be written as pit — pit — pit — pit — pit — pit — pit. The number 
of notes in the series is usually 7 or 8 but may be only 2 or more 
than 15. The individual notes are sometimes more a peeka, pita, or 
peet, and the intensity is more variable than that of the full song. 
This call is used mainly by the female but is also used by the male 
and is a call to the mate. Innumerable times I have heard the full 
song given first and answered by this one, or the reverse is just 
as frequent. Often the calls alternate three to six times, or they may 
even be given simultaneously. Such calls and answers may be heard 
at any time of day and throughout the year and seem to give the 
location of one to the other, as one of the birds frequently goes to the 
other. Sexual excitement may also play a part as variations of these 
calls, variously recorded during field work as pit-tr-tr-tr-tr, 
perrrrrrrrt, musical repeated trrrr or weak pit followed by accented 
trrrrr, are heard on the days when the pair is completing a nest 
and sexual flight or copulation is taking place, though neither of 
these acts is invariably accompanied by this song. 

Sometimes the response to the loud-ringing call of either the male 
or female is a faint burring note, hrrrrrr. This short note is given 
at intervals as a pair forages and seems to keep the two near together. 

A similar but louder accented krrrr, often repeated three or four 
times, is an alarm note. It is given as the bird disappears in the 
brush when it is startled. It is often given by a trapped bird or 
by another bird that is circling the trap. 

A loud continuous Jcrrrr that may be kept up for minutes on end is 
a scolding or mobbing note. At intervals it may be interrupted, only 
to start again with equal vigor. The bill is held slightly open, and 
the whole body vibrates as the sound is produced. The bird is in 
constant motion, shifting from one perch to another and following or 
circling the disturbing factor, usually a jay. The same note was used 
to mob a sharp-shinned hawk. Once a snake appeared to be the cause. 
The same sound was often given when I was near the nest. 


A squealing note, scree or schree^ was heard a few times. Three or 
four times ii- was given when I reached into a trap to take the bird in 
my hand or when I was banding it. The same sound was heard dur- 
ing fights between individuals kept in cages, once by a bird fighting 
bill to bill with another, and once by a male when another attacked it. 
It appears to be a note of fear, defeat, or submission. 

During boundary disputes between established pairs, a series of 
low staccato notes, which I have recorded as pW piP 'pit\ tuf tut\ or 
peeha, is commonly given, often by several birds at once. 

The first songs of the young may have the full ringing quality of 
the adults, but often they are thin, weak, and tremulous. The trill that 
terminates it is frequently more prolonged and has a warblerlike 

Field marhs. — An outstanding field character of the wren-tit is its 
long tail tilted up at an angle from the body, rovmded at the tip and 
narrow at the base. Other characteristics are the general grayish 
brown of the back and the cinnamon-brown of the underparts, its 
relatively long legs, the way it remains hidden within the brush, and 
the fact that two are invariably seen together. If one is near enough 
the white iris may be seen. The songs and calls are distinctive and 
easily learned. 

Enemies. — The destruction of eggs and young by natural causes is 
high. Of 24 nests found before or soon after the set was completed, 
young were fledged from only 10. Wren-tits recognize jays as a 
source of danger to their young, and with reason, for both Mrs. A. S. 
Allen (MS.) and I have seen the jays take eggs and young from nests. 
Other enemies of the young and adults are probably those common to 
most small species. Dr. A. H. Miller found the remains of two wren- 
tits in the pellet of a horned owl. 

Fall and tvinter. — As already indicated, the adults remain in pairs 
on their territories during fall and winter. Their activities continue 
on a relatively uniform level and serve to maintain themselves, their 
companionship, and their territory. They are constant companions, 
forage together, keep track of each other by calls, preen each other, 
sleep together, and may rarely show sexual excitement to the degree of 
attempting copulation. They are relatively tolerant of the wandering 
young and are themselves occasionally found a little distance beyond 
their usual boundaries, but the male sings regularly and both defend 
the territory from aggressive invasion. 

The young, on the other hand, tend to wander during the early fall. 
Of 46 banded young reared in the canyon where I watched intensively, 
only one was seen or trapped after it was nine weeks old, though un- 
handed immatures were common. One of my banded young when 
nine weeks old was trapped half a mile from its original home. It is at 


this time that wren-tits are seen in the shrubbery of dwellings. How 
far they wander is diiScult to say, but I doubt if it is more than ten 
miles. Soon after this period of wandering, the young tend to re- 
main in one place, usually with a companion of the opposite sex. 
Sometime in the course of the winter, certainly by March, it ceases to 
be satisfied with merely a place to forage and a casual companion. 
If a male, it tries to acquire a territory ; if a female, it seeks an un- 
mated male with a territory. Most but not all are successful. Once 
established it will, usually, survive on its territory for 5 years, but it 
may persist for as long as 10 years. 


Range. — Oregon to Baja California. 

The wren-tit is found north to northwestern Oregon (Astoria). 
East to western Oregon (Astoria, Rogue River Valley, Gold Hill, 
and Medford) ; central California (Hornbrook; the western slope of 
the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, Walker Pass, Kern County, and the San 
Bernardino Mountains) ; and Baja California (east base of the Sierra 
San Pedro Martir and Aquaita). South to Baja California about 
latitude 30° ( Aquaito) . West to the Pacific Ocean, Baja California 
(San Quintin, San Ramon, and San Telmo) ; California (San Diego, 
Santa Paula, San Francisco, and Humboldt and Del Norte Counties) ; 
Oregon (Newport, Tillamook, and Astoria). 

The range as outlined is for the entire species, which has been divided 
into six subspecies or geographic races. The coast wren-tit {G. f. 
phaea) is found in the humid coastal region of Oregon from the 
Columbia River about to the California line ; the ruddy wren-tit ( C. f. 
inifula) occurs in the humid coast belt of California south to San 
Francisco Bay ; the intermediate wren-tit ( G. f. intermedia) is found 
in the San Francisco Bay region, except the coastal strip north of the 
Golden Gate, south to Santa Clara County; Gambel's wren-tit {G. f. 
fa^ciata) occurs in the coastal strip of Monterey and San Luis Obispo 
Counties ; the pallid wren-tit {G. f. hetishawi) is found from the Rogue 
River Valley of Jackson County, Oreg., and in the foothills and valleys 
of interior and southern California, and along the coast from Santa 
Barbara County to about the Mexican boundary ; the San Pedro wren- 
tit {G. f. canicauda) is found in northwestern Baja California, south 
to about latitude 30°. 

Casual records. — A pair were collected at Klamath Falls, Oreg., on 
November 7, 1912 ; an individual was observed in July 1937, 10 miles 
north of Kelso, Wash. 

Egg dates. — California : 118 records, March 1 to July 2 ; 45 records, 
May 1 to May 22 ; 35 records, March 10 to April 6. 



Although this subspecies was originally described and named nearly 
50 years ago, it has only recently been recognized in the twentieth 
supplement to our Check-list (Auk, vol. 63, p. 431, 1946) . 

Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1900) described it as follows: "Back and 
upper tail-coverts, sepia, shading into hair brown on nape and top 
of head. Lores and small spots on upper and lower eye-lids, pale 
gray. Throat and breast, cinnamon-rufous, fading posteriorly into 
pale vinaceous-cinnamon on middle of belly. Feathers on breast, 
with faint dusky shaftstreaks. Sides, flanks and lower tail-coverts, 
brownish olive. Under wing-coverts and axillars, pale vinaceous- 
cinnamon. Wings and tail, clove-brown, the feathers with slightly 
paler edgings." 

This subspecies is clearly intermediate between the dark northern 
race and the pale southern form. Whether it is wise to recognize 
intermediate forms in nomenclature is open to serious question. We 
have no reason to think that it differs materially in any of its habits 
from other races of the species. Its eggs seem to be indistinguishable 
from those of the species elsewhere. It has only a limited range in the 
San Francisco Bay region, except the coastal strip north of the Golden 
Gate, and southward to Santa Clara County. 



Plate 20 


The pallid wren-tit is the most widely distributed race of the species. 
The 1931 Check-list gives its range as the "Upper Austral Zone of the 
foothills and valleys of interior and southern California from Shasta 
County south, and along the coast from Santa Barbara County to the 
Mexican boundary." 

Living as it does in an arid environment, it is also the palest of the 
California races. Ridgway (1904) describes it as "similar to C. f. 
fasciata, but decidedly paler, the back, scapulars, rump, etc., grayish 
brown (deep hair brown), the pileum and hindneck brownish gray 
(nearly mouse gray or deep smoke gray), and general color of under 
parts varying from very pale grayish buff to buffy ecru-drab or pale 
vinaceous-buff, fading to nearly white on lower abdomen." He re- 
marks in a footnote that "occasional specimens from the southern 
coast district are nearly as deeply colored beneath as true C. fasciatay 

In spite of its interior habitat, the haunts of this wren-tit seem to 
be similar to those described under Gambel's wren-tit, for Grinnell and 


Storer (1924) write of its haunts in the Yosemite region: "The regu- 
lar niche of the Pallid Wren-tit is in the foothill chaparral, beneath 
the crown-foliage of the brush plants and so usually not more than 
5 feet from the ground. Fully nine-tenths of the bird's existence is 
passed in this shallow zone. Occasionally wren-tits are to be seen up 
in oaks or other trees growing amid or close to the brush, while now 
and then a bird will be noted on the ground, momentarily. But the 
three essentials for the bird's life, food, shelter from enemies, and safe 
nesting sites, are afforded in largest measure in the chaparral itself." 

Nesting. — The same writers located a nest of this wren-tit 7 feet 
above the ground, much higher than is usual, "in the spray of ter- 
minal foliage of a slanting greasewood stalk." 

Wright M. Pierce (1907) found a nest of the pallid wren-tit in 
San Antonio Canyon, elevation about 4,500 feet, near Claremont, 
Calif. He describes it as follows : 

It was situated among thick branches and near the top of a scrub oak bush 
perhaps two and a half feet up, and is a gem of bird workmanship, composed, 
as it is, of bleached weed fibres such as fine grasses, an abundance of soft plant 
down, a little weed bark, and fine hairy threads of bark of the j^cca plant, 
with a few wider blades of grass intermixed and woven about thru the whole 
thick-walled structure. A thick mass of horse hair makes the lining. To more 
firmly bind and hold together the nest, which even without would have been 
unusually strong and serviceable, these ingenious little birds used cobwebs as 
an outer covering to make their house doubly strong. The dimensions of the 
nest are : Depth, outside, 5 inches ; inside, 2 inches. Diameter, outside, 4 inches ; 
inside, 2 inches. 

This seems to be an unusually large nest in outside dimensions. 

There are two nests in the Thayer collection in Cambridge, taken 
near Escondido, that were placed about 2 feet up in sagebushes; fine 
strips of sage bark and some of the sage blossoms were used in the 
construction, which must have helped to conceal the nests. 

This seems to be the only one of the wren-tits that has been recorded 
as a victim of the dwarf cowbird ; Dr. Friedmann (1934) reports only 
three cases of such parasitism. 

The eggs of the pallid wren-tit are similar to those of the other races 
of the species. The measurements of 40 eggs average 18.0 by 14.1 
millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 19.4 by 14.3, 
18.3 by 14.7, and 16.8 by 13.4 millimeters. 




Tills is the southernmost of the wren-tits, living in northwestern 
Baja California, from the United States boundary south to about 
latitude 30. 


In describing this race, Grinnell and Swarth (1926) give, as its 
distinguishing characters — 

pale colored as regards plumage, more so even than its nearest geographic 
relative, henshawi, hence the palest colored of the forms of Chamaea fasoiata. 
The differences distinguishing canicauda from henshawi, though slight (hardly 
appreciable in badly vporn plumage) are, it seems to us, notable in being of a 
different sort from those distinguishing henshawi from C. /. fasciata. In the 
latter case, while henshami is much paler than fasciata, they are both hroimi 
tinged birds. In canicauda the browns are almost eliminated. The cinnamon 
of the underparts is extremely pale, the middle of the belly being nearly white, 
the upperparts, whole head, wings, and flanks are slaty, while the tail is deep 
slate. In canicauda the bill and feet are unequivocally black ; in all the other 
races of Chamaea the bill and feet are more or less tinged with brown — "horn 

A. W. Anthony (1893), while exploring the San Pedro Martir 
Mountain, found this wren-tit "common along the lower slopes of the 
mountain and not rare in the highest altitudes where it nests in the 
scrub oak and Manzanita." 

The measurements of 7 eggs in the P. B, Philipp collection average 
18.5 by 14.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 
20.4 by 14.0, 17.6 by 14.8, and 17.3 by 14.2 millimeters. 

Family CINCLIDAE: Dippers 



Plates 22-24 


From northwestern Alaska and northeastern British Columbia 
southward to southern California and New Mexico, the dipper, or 
water ouzel, enjoys a wide distribution throughout the mountain 
ranges of western North America as far east as the eastern foothills 
of the Rocky Mountains, wherever it can find clear, cool, rushing 
mountain streams, with waterfalls, cascades, rapids and quiet pools, 
among which it loves to dwell, and to which it is strictly confined. 
Our bird differs from the type of the species, now understood to be 
mainly confined to Mexico and Central America, in paler coloration 
with the head and neck less decidedly brown, though not entirely free 
from this color, hence the name imicolor. 

The dipper lives at different elevations in various parts of its range, 
where it is permanently resident, but obliged to seek the lower levels 
when winter freezes the upper reaches of the streams. Nelson (1887) 
found it "at the headwaters of the Yukon," as well as "along the shores 
of Norton and Kotzebue Sounds, where the small streams flow into 
the sea." We saw only one pair in the Aleutian Islands, on an inland 


mountain stream near a little waterfall at Unalaska, not much above 
sea level; Lucien M. Turner (1886) says that it is not common in 
these islands, but is a permanent resident. 

We found it at Ketchikan, Alaska, on the stream that dashes down 
from the mountains just back of the town, and on the coast of British 
Columbia, not far from salt water. In the Yellowstone Park, M. P. 
Skinner observed it at levels ranging from 5,300 to well above the 
8,000-foot level. Grinnell and Storer (1924) record it in the "Cana- 
dian and Hudsonian zones at altitudes of from 2,000 to 10,000 feet, 
and is continuously resident, even under the rigors of the Sierran 
winter, up as high as water remains open," in the Yosemite region. 
In Colorado, according to Sclater (1912), it ranges from 5,000 feet 
up to timberline at 11,500 feet. And Mrs. Bailey (1928) records it in 
New Mexico as low as 7,000 and as high as 11,600 feet. The American 
dipper seems to reach its southern limits in Arizona ; we saw one in 
Ramsey Canyon on April 13, 1922, and Swarth (1904b) saw one in 
the same place in the Huachuca Mountains on August 4, 1902. We 
explored the lower portion of Sabino Canyon, at the southern end 
of the Catalina Mountains, but saw no dippers there. Charles T. 
Vorhies (1921) , however, found a pair on two occasions in this canyon, 
eight or ten miles up from the mouth of the rocky stream ; he thought 
they were probably resident there. 

No better account of the American dipper has ever been written 
than John Muir's (1894) chapter on the water ouzel; I cannot do 
better than to quote freely from it, as it covers the gi'ound most beau- 
tifully. Of its characteristic haunts, he writes : 

Among all the countless waterfalls I have met in the course of ten years' 
exploration in the Sierra, whether among the icy peaks, or warm foot-hills, or 
in the profund yosemitic canons of the middle region, not one was found without 
its Ouzel. No caiion is too cold for this little bird, none too lonely, provided it 
be rich in falling water. Find a fall, or cascade, or rushing rapid, anywhere 
upon a clear stream, and there you will surely find its complementary Ouzel, 
flitting about in the spray, diving in foaming eddies, whirling like a leaf among 
beaten foam-bells ; ever vigorous and enthusiastic, yet self-contained, and neither 
seeking nor shunning your company. * * * He is the mountain streams' 
own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and 
sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. 

But the water ouzel, as I prefer to call it, is not wholly confined at 
all times to the mountam streams and waterfalls. Several observers 
have seen it on the shores of lakes, or feeding in them at considerable 

Taylor and Shaw (1927) observed several birds "on the quiet waters 
of the Tahoma Creek beaver pond," on Mount Rainier; and "water 
ouzels were frequently seen swinging low over the water near the shores 
of Reflection and Mowich Lakes, apparently as much at home as in the 
cascading creeks below." 


Referring to Yellowstone Park, Mr. Skinner (1922) writes: "Only 
once have I seen one away from water and then he was flying over 
the quarter mile stretch between two streams. I have seen them on 
streams not more than two feet wide in the fir forests ; along ditches, if 
the water be but clear and running; and occasionally, in November, 
along a ditch watering a barn yard. They live about beaver ponds." 

GouTtship. — Clyde E. Ehinger (1930) watched a pair of dippers 
flying down a stream, keeping close together, and acting in a manner 
that seemed to suggest mating antics. He says : 

A typical incident of the kind was noted on February 6. A smaller and lighter 
colored bird — which I believe to have been a female — was observed spreading 
and fluttering her wings and closely following the bird which was singing. 
At times she would run rapidly toward him, with head lowered, wings extended 
and in rapid motion. These charging motions were repeated again and again, 
the male however, apparently giving but scant heed. It seemed quite obvious 
that the advances — at the time — were mainly made by the female, although 
the male gave vent to ardent bursts of song when the female flew to or past 
him. It seemed as though the little lady gave expression to her feelings chiefly 
by means of muscular movements and attitudes while her admirer expressed 
his passions by means of sweet melodies. 

Nesting. — The water ouzel builds a beautiful and unique nest, unique 
in structure and unique in location. The characteristic location, and 
probably the usual location under primitive conditions, is close to and 
almost in its beloved mountain stream, often far from the haunts of 
man, sometimes under a waterfall hidden by the falling torrent, some- 
times fully exposed to view on a rock in midstream, but more often 
on some narrow ledge on the face of a rocky cliff among mosses and 
ferns, where it is beautifully camouflaged and constantly wet with 
flying spray or mist. Muir (1894) describes it very well as follows : 

The Ouzel's nest is one of the most extraordinary pieces of bird architecture 
I ever saw, odd and novel in design, perfectly fresh and beautiful, and in every 
way worthy of the genius of the little builder. It is about a foot in diameter, 
round and bossy in outline, with a neatly arched opening near the bottom, some- 
what like an old-fashioned brick oven, or Hottentot's hut. It is built almost 
exclusively of green and yellow mosses, chiefly the beautiful fronded hypnum that 
covers the rocks and old drift-logs in the vicinity of waterfalls. These are 
deftly interwoven, and felted together into a charming little hut ; and so situated 
that many of the outer mosses continue to flourish as if they had not been 
plucked. A few fine, silky-stemmed grasses are occasionally found interwoven 
with the mosses, but, with the exception of a thin layer lining the floor, their 
presence seems accidental, as they are of a species found growing with the mosses 
and are probably plucked with them. * * * 

In choosing a building-spot, concealment does not seem to be taken into 
consideration ; yet notwithstanding the nest is large and guilelessly exposed to 
view, it is far from being easily detected, chiefly because it swells forward like 
any other bulging moss-cushion growing naturally in such situations. This is 
more especially the case where the nest is kept fresh by being well sprinkled. 
Sometimes these romantic little huts have their beauty enhanced by rock-ferns 


and grasses that spring up around the mossy walls, or in front of the door-sill, 
dripping with crystal beads. 

Nests are not always placed on rocks; several have been reported 
as built among the upturned roots of fallen trees, near or over the 
water. Mrs. TVHieelock (1904) reports one that "was located on a 
smooth granite boulder that rose from tlie white foam of the American 
River in the Sierra Nevada. Resting half on the rock and half in 
the stream was a fallen tree trunk, and under the shelter of this on 
the slippery rock the Ouzel had woven his little moss nest, kept fresh 
and green by tlie spray that dashed over it." 

Since man has invaded some of the ouzel's mountain haunts, the 
birds have learned to use man-made structures, little daunted by human 
activities in the vicinity. A number of nests have been observed 
under bridges that were in regular use. Such nests were built against 
or upon tlie girders or the supporting beams, often close up to the 
planking ; the nest in such a situation had to be made to fit the avail- 
able space ; sometimes there was not room for the usual dome, which, 
of course, was not needed for protection; an occasional bridge nest 
may be entirely open at the top, like a phoebe's nest. Dean Amadon 
tells me that he found a dipper's nest, in Wyoming, that was under a 
bridge on a main improved road; it was 4 feet above the water on 
top of a supporting beam. Nests have been found under bridges in 
villages. Two rather remarkable cases of such familiarity with civ- 
ilization have been recorded. Many years ago. Dr. Cooper (Suckley 
and Cooper, 1860) wrote: 

I found a nest of this bird at a saw mill down on the Chehalis river. It was 
built under the shelving roots of an immense arbor-vitae, which had floated 
over and rested in a slanting position against the dam. The floor was made 
of small twigs and bare, the sides and roof arching over it like an oven, and 
formed of moss projecting above so as to shelter the opening. This was large 
enough to admit the hand, and tlie inside very capacious. It contained half- 
fledged young. The old birds were familiar and fearless, being accustomed to 
the noise of the mill and the society of the men, who were much interested by 
their curious habits. They had already raised a brood in the same nest that 

In a small village in ]\Iodoc County, Calif., Charles L. Whittle 
(1921) traced a water ouzel to its nest in a wooden lean-to, or shed, 
in the rear of the village bank, built of brick. "As close inspection 
as possible revealed the bird's somewhat bulky nest placed on a 
horizontal timber near where it joined a rafter and close against the 
end of the shed. The nest was placed directly over and some 8 feet 
above the water," which flowed swiftly under the shed. 

Nest-building seems to be performed mainly, if not wholly, by 
the female in a most ingenious manner. This is fully described in 
some extracts from the notebooks of Denis Gale, published by Junius 


Henderson (1908), to which the reader is referred, as his account is 
too long to be included here. 

Aretas A. Saunders tells me that, in Montana, "some dipper nests, 
built on rocks, are without a bottom or lining, the eggs being deposited 
on the rocks, the nest being merely a roof, side walls and the usual 
front entrance, made of woven moss." 

Samuel F. Kathbun refers in his notes to a dipper's nest in an un- 
usual location : 

It was placed on the sloping top of a stump, and at a height of three feet 
ahove the surface of a small, swiftly running stream in the mountain foothills. 
There was a cavity of some size in the top of the stump, and this was completely 
filled with a mass of fresh moss, some of which had been worljed into the under 
side of the nest proper to aid in its attachment. The wliole affair resembled a 
roughly-shaped ball of green moss on the top of the stump, which was in phiin 
view in an open spot just within the water's edge. But since there was a 
considerable growth of moss on the side of the stump, it helped to mal^e the 
mass of moss less noticeable. 

Mr. Saunders writes to me of another well-concealed nest : "There 
was a small waterfall about 2 feet high and near it I saw a dipper 
with food in its bill. There was moss on the rocks all around the 
fall, but I saw no nest. Then the bird went to a vertical wall of moss 
near the fall, and evidently fed young. When it had gone, I investi- 
gated and the moment my hand touched the wall of moss several young 
popped out of a hole in the moss into the pool below the fall. The 
nest, from external appearance, was merely a hole in the moss wall, 
back of which there was a niche in the rock." 

Eggs. — The American dipper lays from three to six eggs in a set, 
usually four or five. These are ovate in shape, sometimes slightly 
elongated and often somewhat pointed at the small end. They are 
pure, dead white and entirely unmarked. The measurements of 50 
eggs average 25.9 by 18.5 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four ex- 
tremes measure 28.5 by 19.1, 26.2 by 19.5, 24.0 by 19.0, and 25.0 by 17.0 

Young, — According to J. A. Steiger (1940), "the female alone 
covers the eggs during incubation, and about the thirteenth day 
hatching occurs. * * * After about 18 days of rapid growth, 
the fledglings file from the crowded nest. Amidst raucous call- 
ing, the experimenting young follow the creek. Flying at short dis- 
tances, the parents entice their charges from rock to rock, seeming 
to encourage them to greater and braver acts." 

Dr. A. H. Cordier (1927) built a platform within 6 feet of a 
water ouzel's nest, from which the following observations were 
made: "The female did most of the feeding. * * * On one oc- 
casion when my head was within 18 inches of the nest, the female 
lit on the face of a slick rock 3 feet from the nest, but only for a 


second. She had in her beak a small rainbow trout, which she 
delivered to one of the young birds. Although there were four young 
birds, at no feeding did I see more than two gaping mouths pro- 
truding from the nest's entrance." The feeding visits of the male 
"were about 1 to 10 as compared with those of the female," and 
Dr. Cordier continues : 

The female fed about 8 times per hour. The male fed ofteuest between 
10 and 2 o'clock, at which time the combined feeding visits averaged 12 per 
hour. I noticed that the male made most of his visits to the nest while the female 
was brooding. She entered the nest by crawling over the young birds, turned 
about within the nest cavity and remained far back in the nest. At such 
times when the male made his visits, she remained in the nest, the young birds 
protruding their heads from beneath her breast to receive food from the 
male. * * * 

The birds are extremely cleanly in their habits. As the interior of the nest 
was often inspected, any excrement found adhering to a straw or piece of 
moss was carefully picked up and carried away. The young birds when 
defecating turned the tail toward the nest entrance and with a well marked 
expulsive effort shot foecal mass 4 to 6 inches from the nest. These masses 
were always enclosed in a membrane. Many of them rolled unbroken down 
the rocky incline into the water and were carried down stream. Those re- 
maining were picked up by the female and removed. * * * One bird only 
was fed at a feeding visit. 

Probably two broods usually are raised in a season under favorable 
circumstances throughout most of the dipper's range, though this is 
hardly likely in the more northern regions. The young are much 
more precocial than are the young of other passerine birds. They 
seem to know instinctively, as soon as they leave the nest, how to run, 
climb, dive and swim, or flutter along the surface of the water ; they 
soon become as much at home in the water as their parents. 

Claude T. Barnes has sent me the following interesting account: 
"On July 24, 1930, while I was in City Creek Canyon, near Salt 
Lake City, Utah, at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, it was my rare 
good fortune to see a water ouzel feeding its young. Sitting idly 
beside the noisy stream, I first heard a continuous cry, which re- 
sembled somewhat the stridulation of a locust, yet more, in its 
lusty character, the squeal of a mouse, distinct above the brook's 
purling and extended for three or four minutes at a time. Puzzled, 
I waited until the cause appeared; a young water ouzel, nearly as 
large as its mother, hopped to a stone on the opposite bank, con- 
stantly making the crying sound, which I thought now similar to 
the noise of a fighting hummingbird. The mother ouzel was ahead, 
wading the stream, diving occasionally into the water, and busying 
herself with the finding of worms and grubs. As she did this the 
young bird cried, watched her, followed her, flipped its wings, and, 
every few moments, made the characteristic bob of the species. Fi- 

758066—48 8 


nally the mother got a grub; and, as if aware of the fact, the little 
one began violently to agitate its wings and to cry more greedily 
for its dinner. The mother ouzel flew to it, placed the grub in its 
mouth, and indifferently went to work again. Satisfied for the 
moment, the young one dipped its head into the water, ceased crying, 
and rested, only to become apprehensive about the mother's progress 
away, and to renew its crying and watchful following. For the 
most part, it kept close to the edges where the water was but an inch 
or so deep and protruding stones were numerous, though, now and 
again, it flew a few yards across an inconvenient bend. Away they 
went down stream, around a bend, out of sight." 

Mrs. Amelia S. Allen has sent me an interesting note on the feed- 
ing of a young ouzel. The mother ( ? ) "alighted near the young 
bird and tried to place a fat insect in its beak. The baby dropped 
it. The mother picked it up, flew across to a dead branch that sloped 
down to the water, dipped the insect into the water, then flew back 
to the youngster. Again he fumbled. The mother picked up the 
insect again, flew across to the same branch, walked along it to the 
edge of the water, dipped the insect in and returned to the baby. 
At last the insect was swallowed." 

Fred Evenden, Jr., sends me the following note: "After a while 
I moved in close again to the nest while both parents were gone. 
I remained motionless, but even then they detected me when they 
returned. The female returned alone and hopped around on a rock 
in midstream and then flew to the water's edge about 3 feet from 
me. Then she went to the rock in midstream and gave what must 
have be«n an alarm note, for almost immediately her mate came 
upstream and they talked to each other and then both of them de- 
fiantly took it upon themselves to scold me. I left the spot for I 
didn't want to keep them from bringing food to their young. This 
alarm note I mentioned went this way. Several short and high notes 
with a rasping trill at the end. The female gave this call twice." 

Plumages. — I have not seen any small nestlings, but Mr. Steiger 
(1940) says that "from die first, the young Ouzel has a complete coat 
of down." 

This down becomes a necessary protection by the time that the young 
bird takes its first plunge, at an early age, into the cold water. 

In the Juvenal plumage, the young bird is somewhat like the adult, 
but paler generally, and the under parts are suffused or mottled with 
very pale buff or buffy white ; the chin and throat are mainly white ; 
and the greater wing coverts are narrowly tipped with grayish white. 
This plumage is worn through the summer and into September ; I have 
seen a bird in juvenal plumage as late as September 6. I don't know 
how extensive the post juvenal molt is, but it evidently involves the 
contour plumage at least. 


The first winter plumage of the young bird is similar to that of the 
adult, with perhaps a little more white on the underparts. 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in July and August ; I have 
seen adults in fresh plumage as early as August 20. Kidgway (1904) 
says that fall and winter adults have the "feathers of nearly all under 
parts more or less distinctly (always narrowly) margined with whit- 
ish, the larger wing-coverts and tertials (sometimes also secondaries, 
innermost primaries, and rectrices) also narrowly margined at tips 
with white, a narrow whitish mark on each eyelid, and the bill horn 

Food. — The water ouzel obtains most of its food in, on, or under the 
water of the streams on which it lives. It is very fond of the larvae 
of the caddicefly, for which it probes around and under the small stones 
on bottom ; there it also finds water-bugs, water-beetles, the larvae of 
other insects, aquatic worms, and other forms of animal life that live 
in such places. John Muir (1894) writes attractively: 

He seems to be especially fond of the larvae of mosquitoes, found in abundance 
attached to the bottom of smooth rock channels where the current is shallow. 
When feeding in such places he wades up-stream, and often while his head is 
under water the swift current is deflected upward along the glossy curves of the 
neck and shoulders, in the form of a clear, crystalline shell, which fairly incloses 
him like a bell-glass, the shell being broken and re-formed as he lifts and dips his 
head ; while ever and anon he sidles out to where the too powerful current carries 
him off his feet ; then he dexterously rises on the wing and goes gleaning again 
in shallower places. 

Mayflies, caddiceflies, and other insects often drop into the pools, or 
the quiet reaches of the stream, or are washed down over the water- 
falls ; under the waterfalls are favorite feeding places ; and, on the more 
quiet surfaces, the ouzel swims like a duck, using its feet as paddles, 
or flaps along the surface with the help of its wings, and picks up the 
floating insects, if it can do so before the trout rise to snap them up. 
Under the overhanging banks, under logs, or under the shelter of 
rocks and stones, where trout fry or other small fish are hiding, it 
seeks such finny prey. Often fish as much as 2 or 3 inches in length 
are captured, taken ashore, and killed by vigorous beating; some of 
these escape, and others, too big to swallow, are abandoned. 

In cold weather, or high up in the mountains, the dipper has been 
seen to pick up frozen insects from the ice of lakes, or from snowbanks 
after the manner of rosy finches. Junius Henderson (1927) makes 
the surprising statement, on the authority of Prof. Aughey (1st Kep. 
U. S. Ent. Comm., 1878), that dippers "have been observed catching 
locusts" in Nebraska. J. A. Steiger (1940) .says that "at times they 
make water cress and other aquatic flora part of their diet." 

Unfortunately for the dipper's welfare, it is too fond of the spawn 
and small fry of salmon and trout, and it is tempted to feed on them 
freely when and where they are easily available. This habit has made 


many enemies for the dipper among sportsmen and especially among 
the managers of hatcheries. The damage done to wild salmon and 
trout by this bird is probably not serious under natural conditions, for 
these fish are known to lay vastly more eggs than can ever hatch, many 
eggs eaten by the dipper are known to be infertile, and vastly more 
fry are hatched than can possibly survive ; I have seen it estimated that, 
if all fish eggs hatched and the fry grew to maturity, the oceans would 
soon be packed solid full of fish. Furthermore, the spawning grounds 
of both salmon and trout are mainly in waters not often frequented 
by the dippers, as these birds live mainly on the rapid mountain streams 
rather than on the slower valley streams and spawning grounds where 
they are rarely seen. 

Under the artificial conditions prevailing at fish hatcheries, it is a 
different story; here the dippers undoubtedly do considerable damage. 
J. A. Munro (1924) made a study of the relation of the dipper to fish- 
ing interests in British Columbia and Alberta ; I ofi'er a few quotations 
from his report. The manager of the Skeena River hatchery offered 
the suggestion that "if naturally it eats a few salmon fry and ova, it 
will balance this by eating ova and fry of the salmon enemies." The 
Banff hatchery reported that "during the winter of 1921-22 not less 
than 10,000 advanced Cut-Throat trout fry were taken from the ponds 
and destroyed by these birds." In summing up all the evidence that 
he gathered, Mr. Munro said that "it will be noted that little evidence 
has been presented in reference to their consumption of sjoawn and this 
is evidently not considered .serious by the fishery officials. * * * The 
destruction of fry is perhaps a more serious offence but we have little 
evidence that this takes place to an alarming degree under natural con- 
ditions, the complaints having reference to the destruction of arti- 
ficially propagated fry after they have been placed in the retaining 
ponds. It has been noted that these small fish swim continually along 
the shores of the ponds, seeking an outlet perhaps, and so fall an easy 
prey to Dippers, Kingfishers or other birds that may be attracted to 
this bountiful supply of food. * * * The practice of shooting these 
birds in order to protect the fry has not had the desired effect," as new 
birds come in to take the places of those that are shot. "The obvious 
remedy is to .screen the surface of retaining ponds with fine mesh wire 
netting. This will adequately protect the fry and render it unneces- 
sary to destroy a song bird of high aesthetic value." 

A. Dawes DuBois writes to me : "Mr. Baigrie Sutherland, then forest 
ranger in the Flathead National Forest for the district having its 
ranger station at Belton on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, 
told me on the 24th of August, 1915, that he saw a water ouzel eating 
fish offal which he had thrown into the edge of the water." 

Behavior. — It is indeed strange that a land bird, a song bird, and 
one so closely related to the wrens and the thrushes should adopt so 


many of the habits of the grebes and the ducks, for it is an expert diver 
and a good swimmer. Its feet are not webbed, of course, but its legs 
and toes are long, and its flexor muscles are very strong, enabling it 
to hold firmly to the rocks and stones against a strong current, to climb 
over the slippery rocks, or to swim fast enough for its purposes. The 
water ouzel is also well equipped otherwise for aquatic life, as pointed 
out by Grinnell and Storer (1924) : 

The covering of feathers on the body is thicker and denser than in either the 
thrushes or wrens, to which the dipper is closely related. Also, the ends of the 
feathers are somewhat more loosely formed, as in many of the true water birds, 
and this seems to help in keeping the plumage from soaking up water. Each nos- 
tril is covered by a movable scale, obviously to exclude water when need be. The 
oil gland at the upper base of the tail is about ten times as large in the dipper as 
in related land-dwelling birds of equivalent size, and the bird makes frequent 
use of the product of the gland to dress its feathers. The stout but tapered form 
of the body, the short tail, the short rounded wings, and the stout legs and feet 
all would seem to be of advantage to a bird living along and in swiftly moving 

The flight of the ouzel cannot be better described than in the follow- 
ing quotations from Miiir's (1894) charming account: 

The Ouzel, born on the brink of the stream, or on a snag or boulder in the midst 
of it, seldom leaves it for a single moment. For, notwithstanding he is often on 
the wing, he never flies overland, but whirs with rapid, quail-like beat above the 
stream, tracing all its windings. Even when the stream is quite small, say from 
5 to 10 feet wide, he seldom shortens his flight by crossing a bend, however abrupt 
it may be ; and even when disturbed by meeting some one on the bank, he prefers 
to fly over one's head, to dodging out over the ground. * * * 

The vertical curves and angles of the most precipitous torrents he traces with 
the same rigid fidelity, swooping down the inclines of the cascades, dropping sheer 
over dizzy falls amid the spray, and ascending with the same fearlessness and 
ease, seldom seeking to lessen the steepness of the acclivity by beginning to ascend 
before reaching the base of the fall. No matter though it may be several hundred 
feet in height he holds straight on, as if about to dash headlong into the throng 
of booming rockets, then darts abruptly upward, and, after alighting at the top 
of the precipice to rest a moment, proceeds to feed and sing. His flight is solid 
and impetuous, without any intermission of wing-beats, — one homogeneous buzz 
like that of a laden bee on its way home. 

Mr. Skinner's (1922) account of its flight is only slightly different: 
"Only once have I seen one away from water and then he was flying 
over the quarter mile stretch between two streams. * * * Xhe 
flight is direct and the wing beats are very rapid for 100 feet, then 
the Dipper coasts along 10 feet with the acquired momentum before 
taking up its wing strokes again. * * * ^ bird will come flying 
down one stream, turn an acute angle at the mouth of a second stream, 
and then go buzzing merrily up it after flying three times as far rather 
than cross the neck of land between the two streams." 

Dippers are solitary birds and are usually seen singly, rarely in 
pairs, except during the breeding season, and very rarely as many as 


three or four together unless it be a group of parents and young. Muir 
(1894) once watched three of these birds — 

spending a winter morning in company, upon a small glacier lake, on the Upper 
Merced, about 7,500 feet above the level of the sea. * * * The portion of the 
lake bottom selected for a feeding-ground lies at a depth of 15 or 20 feet below 
the surface, and is covered with a short growth of algae and other aquatic plants, — 
facts I had previously determined while sailing over it on a raft. After alighting 
on the glassy surface, they occasionally indulged in a little play, chasing one 
another round about in small circles; then all three would suddenly dive together, 
and then come ashore and sing. 

The Ouzel seldom swims more than a few yards on the surface for, not being 
web-footed, he makes rather slow progress, but by means of his strong, crisp 
wings he swims, or rather flies, with celerity under the surface, often to 
considerable distances. But it is in withstanding the force of heavy rapids 
that his strength of wing in this respect is most strikingly manifested. 

Dr. James A. Henshall (1901) , who had some good opportunities to 
watch ouzels in the clear waters of trout hatchery ponds, writes: "I 
have seen them plunge into the water, while flying, and continue 
their flight under the surface for the length of the pond. I have also 
seen them dive, like kingfishers, from the top of the drain boxes into the 
water. Then again, I have observed them leave the shore and swim 
away on the surface like so many ducklings." 

Opinions differ as to how long an ouzel can remain under water ; I 
have seen it stated as 10 seconds; Dr. A. H. Cordier (1927) noted 
one-half minute as the longest he had observed; Muir (1894) implies 
that it can remain under 2 or 3 minutes, but he probably made a wild 
guess at it ! 

Some observers claim that ouzels do not use their wings in swimming 
under water, but most of them now seem to agree that they do ; certainly 
it hardly seems reasonable to think that they could progress rapidly 
enough or swim strongly enough with feet that are so poorly adapted 
for swimming. I believe that they not only can enter the water flying 
but also can come out of it flying. 

It seems strange that a bird that spends so much time in the water 
and in flying spray should be in need of a bath, but Mr. Skinner (1922) 
has seen one plunging into the water with the evident purpose of bath- 
ing ; he has seen one stand in shallow water and flutter its wings in true 
bird-bath fashion ; and he says that "on early winter mornings, sun- 
baths are the regular thing. One cloudy morning I noted a Dipper do 
the next best thing — warm himself and bask luxuriously in the steam 
from some cooled geyser water that was still much warmer than the 
keen, winter air. While swimming on the water, a Dipper goes along 
nodding his head quite like a miniature rail, or a coot. In many ways 
Dippers suggest wrens. They are small and quick; they often perk 
up their short tails at a steep angle ; and they are forever exploring 
every nook and cranny of their domain." 


The water ouzel usually alights on rocks or snags in the mountain 
streams, but it has been known to alight occasionally in trees near its 
habitat. Dr. C. Hart Merriam (1899) says: "One afternoon just 
before dark (6 o'clock) I was surprised to see an ouzel fly up into the 
dead top of a tree, light on a branch, and climb up several feet on the 
trunk with his short tail hanging straight down, after the manner of a 

Late one afternoon, Mr. Ehinger (1930) found one of the birds 
singing "at the foot of the steep bank where they had previously been 
seen to disappear under the shelving sod and roots." This suggested 
a nightly roosting place, and "a little careful investigation confirmed 
this fact as two of the birds at dusk, retired under the cover and did 
not reappear." 

Everyone who has seen a dipper must have noticed one of its 
characteristic habits, from which its name may have been derived. 
When perched on a rock or snag it is almost constantly dipping, nod- 
ding, or bobbing, or teetering. It has also been called the "teeter 
bird." But it is not really a teetering like that of the spotted sand- 
piper, nor is it really nodding, for there is no downward nod of the 
head or up and down movement of the tail. It is a strictly vertical 
movement of the whole hody^ accomplished by bending the long legs to 
a crouching position and then raising them to a high standing position ; 
this produces a perpendicular movement of the body, up and down, for 
a distance of an inch or more, and is quite different from such move- 
ments in other birds. This dipping is rapid, often at the rate of from 
40 to 60 times a minute, or about once a second. Mr. Steiger (1940) 
suggests that, as the dipper "does not seem to have one consistent call 
note for its mate," as the noise of rushing torrents often makes its voice 
difficult to hear, and as its sombre coloring offers no very conspicuous 
recognition mark, we may "interpret the dipping as an effective device 
for communication. This bobbing serves as a wig-wag, drawing the 
attention of the mate, or, when used by young, to draw the attention 
of parent birds. The logic of this explanation finds support in two 
behavior patterns. Flush the Dipper and you will note repeatedly that 
upon alighting again the dipping will be more frequent. Each time the 
bird takes a new location, this increased dipping is striking. It is also 
clear that older birds do not resort to dipping so frequently as the 

Notwithstanding the fact that the dipper prefers to live in the 
mountain solitudes, far from the haunts of man, it is a tame, confiding 
species, if not molested. It seems indifferent to our presence; if we 
sit quietly on a rock beside the stream, even one of its favorite perching 
places, and do not move a muscle, it may alight beside us, gaze at 
us intently with its large, liquid eyes for a moment, and then flit away 
to another rock and begin to sing; several observers have had such 


an experience. John Muir (1894) saw one "cheerily singing within 
reach of the flying chips" from a man that was chopping wood on 
a river bank. "On the lower reaches of the rivers where mills are 
built, they sing on through the din of the machinery, and all the noisy 
confusion of dogs, cattle, and workmen." This does not mean that 
the ouzel does not need protection, or that it can adapt itself to civili- 
zation, for it is slowly disappearing from some of its former haunts 
where its living conditions have been altered, and it may eventually 
find a suitable habitat only in some national park or other protected 

A striking habit of the water ouzel, which has caused considerable 
discussion and difference of opinion, is the frequent winking of either 
the nictitating membrane or the upper eyelid, which has a narrow 
border of short, white feathers. Some contend that the wink is pro- 
duced by the membrane, and some say that it is the eyelid that pro- 
duces it. As a matter of fact, I believe that it may be produced by 
either feature of the bird's anatomy at different times. Grinnell and 
Storer (1924) say: "The nictitating membrane or 'third eyelid' is 
whitish in the Dipper, and, when drawn backward across the eye, as 
it is frequently when the bird is above the water, can be seen at a 
considerable distance. This membrane probably is drawn over the 
eyeball when the bird is working beneath the surface of the water." 
I cannot agree that this last assumption is correct; this membrane 
is translucent, but not transparent, and would probably impede rather 
than help the bird's vision where it would need it most; even the 
unaided human eye can see under water; and I doubt if the trained 
eye of the dipper needs this protection. 

Mr. Ehinger (1930), "being at very close range noted particularly 
the winking of the white-edged eyelids and the flash of the third lid 
or nictitating membrane. When the bird was facing me the winking 
seemed simultaneous with both eyes; when but one eye was turned 
toward me the nictitating membrane seemed to flash out from different 
portions of the eye and at times as though it came from the outer 

Dr. Cordier (1927) collected considerable evidence on this subject, 
to which the reader is referred, and made some thorough, close-up 
observations, which seem to throw considerable light on the subject, 
and from which I quote as follows : 

My observations leading to these conclusions were made at a range of 4 feet 
to 18 inches from the bird, extending over several hours each day for several 
days. The winking in this bird was performed by the action of the nictitating 
membrane and not by the upper eyelid. The upper eyelid has a well defined 
white margin. From beneath this, the membrane was flashed in a downward 
direction in rather an oval shape, extending to the lower border of the cornea. 
The moving pictures show this membrane very distinctly. The movement is 
seen to come from above downward, nearhi the horizontal tmdth of the upper eye- 


lid. When the bird was in the shadow of the nest cavity, with my eyes within 18 
inches of it, I could see the membrane very plainly as it frequently flashed across 
the eye ball. * * * The true lids in most birds move up and down, the winker 
moving horizontally. The Water Ouzel is an exception in so far as the move- 
ment of the winker [nictitating membrane] is nearly vertical. In no bird can 
the upper eyelid be made to close and open with the speed of the nictitating 
membrane. According to the record made by the moving picture camera, there 
are five frames, or individual pictures, impressed on the film at each flash of 
the membrane. This represents about one-third of a second to each wink. 

* * * On one occasion Mr. Sandahl pressed the button of the camera exactly 
at the time the bird winked. This picture shows the extent of the membrane's 
action from above downward. It also shows the membrane as an oval cover- 
ing of the eye and not a straight line as would be the case if made by the upper 

The membrane is called into action to clear the cornea of the watery mist 
while the bird is near the spray and splashes of falls and rapids. This was 
beautifully illustrated while the female was in the nest brooding. The flashes 
of the membrane could plainly be seen. The spray from the nearby falls, with 
the changing air currents could be seen to enter the nest and with each gust of 
moistened air, the membrane was called into action with increased vigor to 
brush aside the watery vapors from the cornea. This was performed independ- 
ently of the white margined upper eyelid. The slow eyelid action is in part 
controlled by volition ; the quick action of the membrane is brought about by an 
unconscious reflex demand. 

Each pair of ouzels establishes and defends a definite territory on 
its home stream, from which trespassing ouzels are driven. As a rule, 
such territorial rights are respected, but sometimes the invading bird 
is attacked and forced to retire. During the nesting season and when 
broods of young have to be fed, such territories are quite extensive 
and the nests are placed a mile or more apart ; Dr. Cordier thought it 
unusual to find two nests within a mile. But when winter closes some 
of the upper reaches of the mountain streams, the birds have to be- 
come more concentrated at lower levels, and perhaps half a dozen birds 
may be found within a mile or two. Dawson (1923) mentions find- 
ing as many as 37 within a distance of two miles. Even then, though 
the territories are shorter, they seem to be fairly well maintained. 

Voice. — The water ouzel is a beautiful singer, singing persistently 
and almost constantly during most of the year and in all kinds of 
weather. The song period is at its lowest ebb during the molting and 
low-water period in August and September, but as soon as winter 
snows have begun to replenish the mountain streams, early in winter, 
it begins to build up and the flood tide of joyous music is reached 
early in spring, mingling with the roar of rushing torrents, and 
generally to be heard above the music of the cascades. John Muir 
(1894) pays the following glowing tribute to the song of the ouzel: 

As soon as the winter clouds have bloomed, and the mountain treasuries are once 
more replenished with snow, the voices of the streams and ouzels increase in 
strength and richness until the flood season of early summer. Then the tor- 
rents chant their noblest anthems, and then is the flood-time of our songster's 


melody. As for weather, dark days and sun days are the same to him. * * * 
Indeed no storm can be more violent than those of the waterfalls in the midst 
of which he delights to dwell. However dark and boisterous the weather, snow- 
ing, blowing, or cloudy, all the same he sings, and with never a note of sadness. 
No need of spring sunshine to tliaw his song, for it never freezes. Never shall 
you hear anything wintery from his warm breast ; no pinched cheeping, no 
wavering notes between sorrow and joy ; his mellow, fluty voice is ever tuned 
to downright gladness, as free from dejection as cock-crowing. * * * 

What may be regarded as the separate songs of the Ouzel are exceedingly dif- 
ficult of description, because they are so variable and at the same time so con- 
fluent. * * * Nearly all of his music is sweet and tender, lapsing from his 
round breast like water over the smooth lip of a pool, then breaking farther on 
into a sparkling foam of melodious notes, which glow with subdued enthusiasm, 
yet without expressing much of the strong, gushing ecstasy of the bobolink or 

The more striking strains are perfect arabesques of melody, composed of a 
few full, round, mellow notes, embroidered with delicate trills which fade and 
melt in long slender cadences. In a general way his music is that of the 
sti'eams refined and spiritualized. The deep booming notes of the falls are 
in it, the thrills of rapids, the gurgling of margin eddies, the low whispering of 
level reaches, and the sweet tinkle of separate drops oozing from the ends of 
mosses and falling into tranquil pools. 

After the above beautiful words of worshipful praise, it seems 
almost a sacrilege to say anything more about the voice of the ouzel, 
but a few call notes, not included in Muir's account, are worth men- 
tioning. An alarm note, a sharp jigic^ j^9^c^ is mentioned by Ehinger 
(1930) and by others. Grinnell and Storer (1924) write: "The call 
note is short and rather burred, uttered singly when the dipper is 
'jouncing' on a rock, or given in rapid series when the bird takes to 
flight. One of our renderings of it is sit, sit, sit, * * * • another 
bseet, or extended to hs-se-se-se-se-se-et. It is quite different in char- 
acter from the song, and resembles in general character the call note 
of the caiion wren." Claude T. Barnes writes to me that one he was 
watching "flew to a wet stone and uttered a single note, cheep, but in 
a few seconds more it flew upstream uttering a chatter like cheep a la 
Ja la, the characteristic notes of the species when flying along a brook.'' 
He also mentions a protesting chatter, "which sounded like ching, 
ching, ching, ching, ching, ching, uttered more rapidly than I could 
count the notes and with a thin, tinkle-like sound, as of a large fishing 
reel clicking. I could hear it distinctly above the roar of the fall. The 
note was repeated six times in each song or scold, whatever it was." 

Mr. Ratlibun tells me that "under favorable conditions many of the 
notes of this bird's song carry a long distance. On quiet mornings and 
when the lake was calm, more than once I heard the song coming 
from the far side of the lake which was more than a mile away." 

Enemies. — Mr. Steiger (1940) writes: 

Its natural enemies are »uany. The water snake, mink, marten, the skunk, 
weasel and other stream-frequenting animals continuously prey upon the mother 


and young. Since they build tlieir nests on the ground they are endangered by 
more predators than are the tree nesters. 

Natural selection has developed a remarkable protection for the female 
Dipper and her brood. During the nesting period and while the young remain 
dependent, they give no body odor. As most ground-traveling predatory animals 
depend primarily upon their keen sense of smell, they are in this way effectively 
disarmed. The survival struggle has made the Dipper's enemies expert hunters, 
and they acquire an uncanny knowledge of the birds' habits ; thus, though pro- 
tected in this way, destruction is an ever present menace. 

The pollution of the streams by refuse from mills and by drainage 
is doubtless destroying some of the dipper's food supply, and driving 
them farther and farther back into the mountains. Some are driven 
out by too congested settlements, and many hundreds of them are shot 
at fish hatcheries. They are too much beloved, as cheerful companies 
along the lonely brooks, to be molested by the trappers and the appre- 
ciative anglers. 

Fall. — Fred M. Packard tells me that, in Estes Park, Colo., "the 
adults and fledglings remain at the higher altitudes until September ; 
then most of them begin to descend into the lower zones for winter. 
Stragglers migrate as the upper waters freeze, and some will winter 
in the park, if the larger streams remain partly free of ice." 

Winter. — The dipper is a hardy mountaineer, indifferent to cold and 
impervious to it. His thick, downy underwear and his coat of dense 
feathers keep the cold out and the heat in. He lives all winter as far 
north, or as high up in the mountains, as he can find any open water. 
And he sings as freely perched on a cake of ice, or in an icy cavern along 
the shore, as he does from a rock in his summer haunts. Dr. Nelson 
(1887) had several brought to him "in midwinter from the head of 
Norton Sound, during a cold period when the thermometer registered 
as low as —50° at Saint Michaels, and they must frequently endure a 
temperature of —60°, or even lower, since in the interior the cold is 
almost invariably much more severe than along the coast. On the 
Upper Yukon it is also a resident, whence the fur traders brought me 
wintering specimens." 

Farther south the dippers are forced to retire from the higher parts 
of the mountains, as the streams freeze and are covered with snow; 
then they become more crowded on the lower reaches of the streams or 
rivers, or resort to the shores of open lakes. At that season they often 
wander even beyond the foothills. Frank L. Farley, of Camrose, 
Alberta, tells me that he has "several records of its appearance on rapid 
creeks in the ranching country west of Innisfail, at least 50 miles 
distant from the Rockies." And Laurence B. Potter, of Eastend, 
Saskatchewan, writes me that he has sight records of the dipper "on the 
swift flowing creeks that form the headwaters of the Frenchman 


A fitting closing is this winter picture, drawn by Muir's (1894) 
matchless pen : 

One mild winter morning, when Tosemite Valley was swept its length from west 
to east by a cordial snowstorm, I sallied forth to see what I might learn and enjoy. 
A sort of gray, gloaming-lilje darkness filled the valley, the huge walls were out of 
sight, all ordinary sounds were smothered, and even the loudest booming of the 
falls was at times buried beneath the roar of the heavy-laden blast. The loose 
snow was already over five feet deep on the meadows, making extended walks 
impossible without the aid of suowshoes. I found no great difficulty, however, in 
making my way to a certain ripple on the river where one of my ouzels lived. He 
was at home, busily gleaning his breakfast among the pebbles of a shallow portion 
of the margin, apparently unaware of anything extraordinary in the weather. 
Presently he flew out to a stone against which the icy current was beating, and 
turning his back to the wind, sang as delightfully as a lark in springtime. 


Range. — Alaska to Guatemala ; nonmigratory. 

The dipper is found north to northern Alaska (Kobuk Kiver 
Valley, tributaries of the upper Atlatna River, and Eagle) ; central 
Yukon (Forty-mile, Ogilvie Range, and the forks of the Macmillan 
River) ; northern British Columbia ( Atlin and Fort Halkett) ; Alberta 
(Athabaska River, about 150 miles northwest of Stony Plain, and 
Edmonton). East to Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary); Montana 
(Glacier Park, Belt Mountains, and Bozeman) ; Wyoming (Wolf, 
Sundance, and Laramie Mountains) ; South Dakota (Black Hills) ; 
Colorado (Gold Hill, Golden, Manitou, and Wet Mountains) ; New 
Mexico (Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos, and Ruidoso) ; Chihuahua 
(Cerro Prieto) ; alpine region of Veracruz ( Jalapa and Rio Blanco) ; 
Puebla (Mount Popocatepetl) ; Oaxaca (Oaxaca) ; and Guatemala 
(San Mateo, Los Arcos, and Tecpam). South to Guatemala (Ton- 
tonicopam and Tecpam). West to Guatemala (Tecpam and Bar- 
rillas) ; Oaxaca (Oaxaca) ; Mexico (Temascaltepec) ; Chihuahua 
(Pinos Altos, Chuhuichupa, and Pacheco) ; Arizona (Huachuca 
Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Salt River Wildlife Refuge, 
Oak Creek, and Grand Canyon) ; the Coast Range in California (San 
Diego County, Carpenteria, San Francisco Bay region, and Hoopa 
Valley, Humboldt County) ; Oregon (Trail and Tillamook Bay) ; 
Washington (Vancouver, Olympic Mountains, and Belli ngham) ; 
British Columbia (Vancouver Island and Graham Island, Queen 
Charlotte Islands) ; and Alaska (Sitka, Kodiak Island, Unalaska 
Island, Nunivak Island, and Kobuk River). 

The range as outlined applies to the entire species, which has been 
divided into three subspecies or geographic races. The typical race, 
the Mexican dipper {G. m. mexwanus)^ occurs from the Huachuca 
Mountains in Arizona to southern Mexico ; the dipper ( C, m. unicolor) 


is found in Alaska, Canada, and the United States ; the third race is 
found in Guatemala. 

Casual records. — An individual was watched closely in May 1891, 
on the Wliite Kiver, Sioux County, Nebr. ; and a specimen was collected 
June 2, 1903, at Wauneta, Chase County, Nebr. 

Egg dates. — Alberta : 8 records, April 14 to June 28. 

California : 30 records, March 23 to June 26 ; 16 records, April 18 
to May 20, indicating the height of the season. 

Colorado : 20 records, April 4 to June 10 ; 10 records, May 9 to May 

Oregon : 6 records, April 18 to June 7. 


Discovery in the Field Museum in Chicago by Emmet R. Blake 
(1942) of a specimen of this type race of the species, collected by 
George F. Breninger in the Huachuca Mountains, Ariz., on May 28, 
1903, entitles this form to a place on our list. Until recently our 
North American form, G. in. vmicolor^ was supposed to extend its range 
in the mountains of California, Arizona, and New Mexico approxi- 
mately to the Mexican border. Evidently these, and other extreme 
southern mountain ranges, have also attracted several other Mexican 
forms, as they lie close to the border and have formed a natural path- 
way into the United States. 

The Mexican dipper is darker than our more northern bird; its 
head and neck are deep sepia brown, whereas in our northern bird 
the head and neck are more grayish brown, and the whole plumage 
is paler. 




Plates 25-27 


There are two recognized forms of the house wren, the eastern, 
Troglodytes dedon aedon^ and the western. Troglodytes aedon park- 
manii. Oberholser (1934) in a revision of the North American wrens 
has adopted Wilson's name domestica because it "seems" to antedate 
Vieillot's name aedon by which the bird has long been known. The 
less rufescent birds inhabiting the region from Michigan, Indiana, 
Kentucky to West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, western New York, 


and Quebec and occurring as a migrant farther east are described 
as a new form with the name Troglodytes domestica baJdioini. For 
the present at least it seems best to adhere to the nomenclature of 
the 1931 A. O. U. Check-list. As far as this life history account is 
concerned the subsi:)ecies are of minor consequence, and what is gener- 
ally true of one will also apply to the other subspecies. 

One of the earliest recollections I have of birds is a pair of energetic 
little house wrens that built in a rustic box placed inside an open 
porch of our Illinois home. These little brown birds (unknown by 
name to me at that time) had an intriguing fascination, with their 
constant going and coming with flitting upcocked tails, their innumer- 
able visits to the nest with food to satisfy their clamoring young, 
their chattering vibrant songs, and their saucy scoldings when I ven- 
tured too near; all those early experiences have left indelible and 
pleasurable memories. For similar reasons the house wren has gained 
countless human friends who cherish the presence of these birds as 
tenants about their homes. 

Unfortunately, individual house wrens, especially those inhabiting 
populated areas, have displayed too mucli aggression for Lehensraum 
in their relations to other birds. This Nazi trait has brought them 
into disfavor by persons who now hold a strong prejudice against 
this attractive and useful bird. 

The house wren because of its depredations on the nests, eggs, and 
young of other birds has been hailed into court where notable witnesses 
both for and against his character ha ve^ taken the stand. The con- 
troversy raged during the twenties as evidenced by the numerous 
articles and communications published in the ornithological journals. 
Sherman (1925) in a spirited article, "Down with the House Wren 
Boxes," took a venomous stand against the wren. She reviews at 
length the statements made by numerous observers, of the destructive 
tendencies of the house wren especially toward those species that 
come into direct competition with it, through their nesting in the 
same environment. Miss Sherman's paper stimulated the writing of 
many of the articles for and against the wren that followed. 

Chapman (1925) in an editorial on the wren controversy stated in 
part as follows: 

The day that I returned from Florida I found the House Wren here to greet 
me. * * * The bubbling music which springs so uncontrollably from his 
quivering throat is too characteristic a part of the season's chorus to be spared. 
The box which has been hanging so patiently on my grape arbor would be but 
a sad reminder of past joys if it should not again be animated by his bustling 
little body. 

Tried in a court of men and he no doubt would be convicted of the charges 
made against him ; but a court of Wrens would dismiss the case and commend 
the culprit. Purely as a matter of justice which verdict should we take? 


Should we judge Wrens by their standards or by ours? That we may insist 
that they conform to our standards is quite a different matter. * * * 

The so-called nature-lover who talies his own standards, personal likes and 
dislikes afield with him, is apt to find quite as much to condemn in animal, 
as in human life. Nature attracts us primarily because she is natural. It is 
the wild not the tame animal which appeals to us; and we want it to exhibit 
the traits which have v/on for it a place among competitors. * * ♦ 

The House Wren has become abundant with our help and through the exer- 
cise of the instincts which have made it a successful species. But is there any 
reason why we should call him a criminal? As a matter of fact we are the 
guilty ones. Inspired by the best of motives and encouraged by those in authority, 
in an excess of zeal we have embarked on a campaign in the behalf of hole- 
nesting birds without perhaps stopping to think just where it will lead us. 

McAtee (1926b) reviewed the evidence from the standpoint of an 
economic ornithologist in his article "Judgment on the House Wren." 
He writes in part as follows : 

Recently the relations of the House Wren to other birds have been fully discussed 
in our ornithological journals. The Wren has had its supporters as well as 
defamers, but few on either side have taken a justicial view of the controversy. 
The evidence that House Wrens sometimes destroy the eggs and otherwise 
interfere with the nesting of other birds is indisputable, but it is not so positively 
realized that this is only one of the factors we must take into consideration 
in forming a judgment (in the technical sense of the term) on the economic 
value of the species. 

Many birds are so free from special vices or virtues that their economic status 
is decided upon the basis of their food-habits alone. Were this true of the 
House Wren, the species would receive a very high appraisal, for it is almost 
exclusively insectivorous, and that, too, in chiefly commendable directions. * * * 
The House Wren is as worthy of approbation as any of our birds on the score 
of its food-habits. It has a better rank in this respect than most of the species 
whose eggs it occasionally destroys. Egg- and nest-destruction by the Wren is 
of local, not general, occurrence and the remedy should be local. It is simple 
to eliminate bird-houses that only Wrens can use, a measure to be applied in 
places whei'e serious depredations have been noted, or to close temporarily, or 
reduce in number, houses that have proved bases for sporadic marauding. Most 
problems in economic ornithology resolve themselves into local irregularities 
of bird-behavior, and the wisest treatment in almost every case proves to be 
that adapted both in kind and degree to local needs. 

The relations of the house wren to other birds make him a much 
more interesting even though it be a less desirable personality. His 
aggressions toward other birds have not been recently acquired but 
constitute an old and well-established trait. His behavior is evidence 
of his superior intelligence in the battle of the survival of the fittest. 
He is activated to secure and dominate a definite area during tlie repro- 
ductive season for the sake of his own preservation. For this reason 
this small enterprising midget making his way in the world often 
against superior odds deserves our respect rather than our condemna- 
tion. If man upsets the balance of nature by his interference, for 
example by erecting too many nesting boxes, then man alone is to 
blame for the conditions which prevail in certain localities. 


Spring. — The first arrivals of the house wren make their appearance 
along the southern limits of the breeding range during the latter part 
of March, but it is not until the middle of April that tliey become 
common. Certain individuals remain on the southernmost wintering 
grounds until the second week of April. In Florida a series of 8 
years of records of birds last seen in the spring range from April 
12 to April 22, an average date of April 17. The first house wrens 
arrive in New England and a corresponding latitude in the Midwest 
during the last week of April or early in May, but it is not until 
the middle of the month that the nesting activities are in full swing. 
At Hillcrest, Ohio, according to Kendeigh (1941) , who made observa- 
tions on the time for beginning of the nesting activities of 186 males 
and 165 females, "The median date for all the males to begin nesting 
activities is May 11, altliough the median date for the first male 
activity is May 1, and for the Za^^esiJ male to begin activity * * * jg 
June 22. Females average later, the corresponding three dates being 
May 20, May 11, and July 1." Kendeigh continues: 

Although first-year birds may be among the first to arrive in late April and 
early May, adults of two or more years of age make up a far greater percentage 
of the migratory population at this time than they do later in the season. Females 
arrive about 9 days later than the males. 

Adult males that have previously nested almost invariably return to the same 
territory that they formerly occupied, or they establish a new territory adjacent 
to it. The return of adult females to their former nesting areas is almost as 

With young birds hatched the preceding season, there is a marked tendency to 
scatter in all directions, although they occur in greatest relative numbers in the 
vicinity where they were hatched. 

TerHtory. — As soon as the male appears on the breeding ground 
his arrival is announced by the territory song. The male isolates 
himself and establishes himself in a definite area. Territory is im- 
portant as a means by which birds become paired and mated and an 
insurance for adequate nesting sites and food supply. According to 
Kendeigh (1941) — 

the process of courtship and mating can scarcely be separated in the house 
wren from the phenomena of territory, as they are so vitally interwoven and 
intrinsically related. 

Territory is established and defended chiefly by song. * * * The "territory 
song" of the house wren is but little different from the "nesting song," and both 
songs announce to other birds that the territory is occupied. [The territory song 
is also an advertisement of the male's presence to females, and of inducement 
to the female to enter a particular male's territory in preference to the territory 
of some other male.] 

The presence of a female is a distinct incentive to song. The male will give 
his territory song over and over again, day after day, in a purely mechanical 
manner until a female comes into view. Not really until then does he show 
emotional excitement. The song is given more energetically, the mating song 
is interspersed and males from adjoining territory may tune in. Competition 


between two males in adjoining territories becomes most vigorous when an 
unattached female enters the area. * * * The male whose song is most stimu- 
lating to her ears would seem to have the advantage. 

In addition to song, territories are also defended by the wren's 
assuming threatening postures sometimes accompanied with scolding, 
chasing, or physical combat. 

Kendeigh says : 

In the establishment of nest-sites, house wrens may destroy the nests, eggs, 
or young of the same or diffei'ent species, or even the adult birds. Although there 
is considerable individual variation in this aggressive behavior, it tends to be 
most intense during years when the total house wren population on the area is 
highest. * * * 

Territories in the Hillcrest area average 1.0 acre * * * j^ si^e. * * * 
The size of the territory varies inversely with the size of the house wren popu- 
lation and does not exert a limiting influence on the total numbers of the species 
in the area until it approaches the minimum compressible limit. The adult birds 
restrict their intensive daily activity to limited parts of the territory but eventu- 
ally cover the entire area. * * * 

The successful mating of two birds of opposite sex appears to depend on their 
physiological and psychological readiness, their ability to stimulate each other 
sexually, the location and character of the teri-itory [and] nest-site together 
with the nest foundation begun by the male, and finally their freedom from other 

Territory is maintained throughout each breeding period and breeding season, 
although there may be some decrease in activity as nesting progresses. This 
continuance of territory may be correlated with the tendency toward polygamy 
manifest in the male, with the use of the same territory for later matings, and it 
may also involve the need for a constant and readily available source of food 
and for freedom from annoying intruders. Primarily, however, the territorial be- 
havior is most closely linked with the acquiring of a first mate. There is no 
evidence that territory is maintained at any other than the breeding season of 
the year. 

Courtship. — ^With the arrival of the female an ardent courtship 
begins. They have an extensive repertoire of songs and call notes, 
which are used for various occasions and for purposes of intercom- 
munication. Both males and females have a habit of quivering their 
wings when excited, which is most pronounced during the mating 
process but is evident also when the birds are disturbed or scolding. 
The position of the male's tail is also a good indicator of the degree 
of his excitement. During ordinary singing it is kept lowered, but 
when his courtship song is intensified, or at times when he is scolding, 
the tail is tilted upward. During copulation it is vertical or tilted 
forward at an acute angle. 

Much excitement is manifested during the inspection of available 
nesting sites, some of which have already been selected and partially 
filled with sticks by the male. The female has opinions of her own 
resulting in violent domestic controversies that intersperse their 
passionate courtship antics. The female may refuse the nest proffered 

758066 — 48 9 


by the male ; sometimes she may accept the nesting box but disapprov- 
ing of the nesting material or the way it was arranged by the male 
proceeds to throw it out stick by stick. Both birds do their part in the 
building of the final nest, but the male spends more time singing and 
guarding the nesting territory. 

After the female is busily engaged with her incubation duties the 
activities of the male are less important since all he does is to sing 
rather mechanically. Occasionally he spends his time carrying sticks 
into some nearby box in the pretense of building a new nest, and while 
doing so he sings his courtship song. In fact, the building of the extra 
nest has been thought to be one of the manifestations of his peculiar 
courtship. While so employed he often acquires a second mate while 
the first is still busy with household duties. 

Nesting. — The house wren stands out preeminently as one of the 
most eccentric of our birds in the choice of its nesting site. In fact, its 
choice of a nesting place exhibits such extreme variation that it is 
difficult to select one that can be considered typical. 

The primitive environment of the house wren was the woodlands and 
its nesting site the natural cavity of some tree or stump. The nest is 
seldom exposed, but generally the requirements of the wren demand an 
enclosure that conceals the nest on all sides except the point of en- 
trance. These birds have readily adapted themselves to the environ- 
ment of man reaching a state of semidomesticity. They have availed 
themselves of houses constructed for their special use or lacking these 
they have built their nests in various contraptions incidentally pro- 
vided either inside or outside of buildings. They are not particular and 
are just as apt to accept an old rusty can in a garbage heap as they are a 
neatly painted house set in the midst of a beautiful flower garden. 

Innumerable curious nesting places have been reported, a few of 
which will serve to illustrate their infinite variety. At a sanctuary 
located on Wallops Island, Va., 24 empty cow skulls found bleaching on 
the island were hung up or lodged in the trees and shrubbery. Almost 
immediately 23 of the gruesome skulls were occupied by house wrens, 
who were quick to accept these unusual nesting boxes (Forbush, 1916) . 
There are several instances where house wrens have built their nests 
inside the large paper nests of hornets or wasps that were attached to 
private or public buildings. Before adding nesting materials the 
interior of the insect nests were excavated by the industrious birds. 
This relationship between wrens and wasps was reversed in one instance 
as illustrated by a photograph taken by R. E. Hart (1941) on the 
campus of Keuka College, New York. A wren house was taken over 
by a swarm of wasps and was completely covered except for a small 
part of the roof, with successive layers of paper layed down by 
the insects. 

It is not uncommon for the wren to make use of the nests of other 


birds. At Loring, Va., a pair of wrens built in a deserted barn swal- 
low's nest. At Laanna, Pike County, Pa., Burleigh (1927) writes of 
a nest containing seven eggs which was in a robin's nest on a ledge above 
a pillar of a porch. Here the cavity had been deepened and a few 
twigs and feathers added, but these were not noticeable a short distance 
away. He found another nest in a barn swallow's nest lodged against 
a beam in the roof of a barn. Here again the cavity had been deep- 
ened and a few twigs and feathers added. Both nests were new and 
apparently had been appropriated from the rightful owners. Angus 
(1934) reports finding five young wrens in a phoebe's nest under a 
bridge, and in this case no nesting material had been added by the 
wrens. Wilbur F. Smith (1911a) relates a strange partnership in 
which wrens and English sparrows built a nest in a bird house, the 
sparrows starting first. Both the sparrow and wren layed eggs that 
were incubated by the English sparrow. Though wrens are ordinarily 
antagonistic toward bluebirds and tree swallows, they have been known 
to occupy different compartments of the same martin house and exist 
in apparent harmony. 

Not only do wrens occupy nests of other birds built in boxes or nat- 
ural cavities or those in the protection of buildings but also they have 
appropriated nests built in open situations. Schwab (1899) writes of 
a pair of wrens that occupied the deserted nest of a Baltimore oriole 
hung 20 feet from the ground in one of the outermost branches of a 
large sugar-maple tree. Two other cases of wrens occupying oriole 
nests have come to my attention ; hence the above case is not imique. 
At Bay of Erie, Pa., a pair of wrens departed greatly from their nesting 
enviroimient when they selected a kingfisher's nesting hole in a sand 
bank. This nest contained young when discovered (Semiett, 1889). 
Still another unusual nesting site in relation to other birds was that of 
a pair of wrens which built in the deeper interstices of an osprey's nest 
located on Plum Island, N. Y. (C. S. Allen, 1892) . 

Other interesting nesting sites of the house wren have been in a 
fish creel or watering pot hung on the side of a shed or fence, rusty 
tin cans in garbage piles, old threshing machines and other fann 
machinery, in tin cans, teapots, and flowerpots left on shelves of 
sheds, in a soap dish, in old boots and shoes, and even in a bag of 
feathers. Outdoors they have been known to nest in the nozzle or 
main part of pumps, in the hat or pockets of a scarecrow, in an iron 
pipe railing, in a weathervane, in holes in a brick wall or building, and- 
in a coat hung up at a camp site. One pair of wrens built their nest 
on the rear axle of an automobile which was used daily. When the 
car was driven the wrens went along. Even under these most un- 
usual circumstances the eggs were successfully hatched (Northcutt, 

The individual wrens have one trait in common in that these ener- 


getic creatures strive to fill the container they select with nesting ma- 
terial. Regardless of its size it is usually well filled except for a nar- 
row passageway leading to the comparatively small nesting cavity 
that contains the eggs or young. This trait is probably one that has 
developed through the protection the birds derive by keeping out cer- 
tain intruders. This fact is often considered in the construction of 
wren nesting boxes by cutting an entrance large enough to admit the 
tiny body of the wren but too small to admit the passage of competi- 
tors the size of an English sparrow or a starling. 

The bulk of a house wren's nest is generally composed of relatively 
long and coarse twigs and sticks and grass. According to Godard 
(1915) if the wrens are given a choice of dry and green sticks they 
select the dry dead sticks and reject the green ones. The nesting cavity 
is usually lined with finer and softer materials such as feathers, hair, 
wool, spider cocoons, and catkins. 

McAtee (1940a) analyzed the materials in 33 complete or partial 
nests found at the Bureau of Plant Industry Experiment Station lo- 
cated near Glen Dale, Md. His report is as follows : 

Foundations included (in the number of nests indicated) : twigs (33), 
feathers (16), chestnut spikes (13), wool (12), leaves (7), cord (6), and weed 
stalks (5). Materials used in fewer instances were: rootlets, red-cedar bark, 
cotton, grass, chestnut shell, paper, a large fragment of snail shell, exoskeletons 
of milleped and sowbug, and a spider cocoon. The twigs were characteristi- 
cally coarse and included some up to 8 inches in length and a few that were 
branched. Rose twigs with plentiful thorns were frequently employed, and in 
a few cases callow young were raised in such nests with little or no cushioning to 
protect them from the spines. The twig bases of nests were often from 4 to 6 
inches deep. Flecks of wool and cotton were scattered through the twig bases 
to no conceivable purpose. The lining of the 33 nests included grass in 19 cases, 
hair, chiefly horsehair, in 16, feathers in 13, and rootlets in six. Other items 
were red-cedar bark, chestnut spikes, weed stalks, and grass. The material in 
one nest, loosened up in the process of analysis, filled a 2-gallon bucket. 

The house wren may use other than the traditional nesting materials. 
Mrs. Gilbert Drake (1931) describes a nest built in a chicken house in 
West Park, N. Y., that consisted largely of small pieces of rusted 
chicken wire. A nest observed by Helen P. Williams ( 1931) was made 
up entirely of metal consisting of rusty bent nails, double-pointed 
tacks, and pieces of wire. An analysis made of a nest found at Ames, 
Iowa, by Harriet C. Battell (1925) was made up of the following rub- 
bish : "52 hairpins, 68 nails (large) , 120 small nails, 4 tacks, 13 staples, 
* * * 10 pins, 4 pieces of pencil lead, 11 safety pins, 6 paper fasten- 
ers, 52 wires, * * * i buckle, 2 hooks, 3 garter fasteners, and 2 
odds and ends." Goelitz (1918) reports finding a nest made up 
entirely of rusted pieces of wire. In fall a tangle of rusted chicken 
wire was thrown behind a shed, and the following spring a pair of 
house wrens in search of nesting material found that the wire would 


break easily into pieces just suited for the purpose. The birds used 
this wire to the practical exclusion of all other usual materials. 

The house wren has the habit of frequently building dummy or 
extra nests, a trait common to other members of the wren family. 
Many of these nests are built by the male prior to the arrival of the 
female in the spring, but a mated male may use its superfluous energy 
in building extra nests in the neighborhood of the one where his mate 
is incubating the eggs. Even if a male is unsuccessful in obtaining a 
mate, he may continue to build several nests during the course of the 
season. The nests built by the male are crude structures, and it is 
probable that some of the curious nests made of rusted wire nails and 
other metallic material previously described are to be attributed to 
the work of the male. In central IlKnois I observed both members 
of a pair of wrens build three complete nests in different boxes before 
selecting one for final occupancy. 

Mrs. Daisy Dill Norton (Forbush, 1929), of Lewiston, Maine, re- 
ports a case in which an unmated female built a nest in a bluebird 
house. It went througli all the manifestations of a maternal wren 
with a family in prospect. She allowed no birds on her house or near 
the nest and was ready to do battle with anything that appeared re- 
gardless of size. The wren remained until the end of August, and in 
all this time Mrs. Norton never saw another wren, nor did she hear the 
song of the male. After the wren left, the box was taken down, and 
inside was found an exquisitely built nest containing 12 (sterile) 
eggs. From these observations it is apparent that the nesting instinct 
is strongly developed in both the male and female house wren. 

One cannot watch a pair of wrens in their repeated attempts to 
get long unwieldy sticks through a narrow box entrance scarcely 
large enough to admit their tiny bodies without being greatly im- 
pressed by their dogged persistence, energy, and skill. At first the 
wren, especially if it is a young individual, may attempt to enter a 
nesting hole with the beak grasped at the center of a long twig, but 
very quickly through trial and error it learns to thrust one end of the 
stick through the opening and then to inch it along with the beak until 
well inside the nesting box. After the technique is mastered it is 
not unusual for them to add four or five such sticks during the course 
of a minute. In a single day they may accumulate a mass of sticks 
several inches in depth, and in 2 or 3 days the entire structure is com- 
pleted and ready to receive the eggs. 

Eggs. — The number of eggs in complete sets varies from 5 to 12, 
but the range in numbers is usually 6 to 8 in the vast majority of nests. 
Harlow (1918) in reporting on 47 nests of the house wren found in 
New Jersey and Pennsylvania states that the average set was 6 or 7 
eggs, but in his series there was a range from 5 to 8 eggs in complete 


sets. Baldwin (Baldwin and Bowen, 1928) found that of 21 pairs 
that had two broods that he had under observation, the average was 
6 eggs for the first and 5.5 eggs for the second brood. Of 19 pairs 
known to have but one brood the average number of eggs laid was 
6.3 per female. 

Birds may be classed as determinate with respect to egg production 
when they lay a definite number of eggs in a set and indeterminate 
when they can be induced to continue laying by egg removal. Cole 
(1930) found that if eggs, presumably from the same female house 
wren, were removed daily, the bird layed an unusually large number of 
eggs. Detailed measurements he made revealed that the length of the 
eggs increased in general to a certain point, then rested, then increased 
to a second high point, then rested, and for a third time increased to 
a high point ; following this there was a downward trend. Thus there 
appeared to be four cycles, separated by rest periods. It is suggested 
that the process of incubation may react on endocrine glands to cause 
cessation of egg production. 

The eggs vary from short-rounded-ovate to oval in shape. The 
ground color is white, usually with a vinaceous tinge. They are 
thickly speckled with minute dots of brownish red or cinnamon-brown, 
which are often so dense as to conceal the ground color giving the 
entire egg a uniform salmon-colored or reddish-brown cast. The 
color is deepest at the rounded end, and in many eggs there is a wreath 
of spots concentrated around this end of the egg. The eggs vary in 
their long diameter from 0.58 to 0.70 inch and in their short diameter 
from 0.46 to 0.53 inch. The average dimensions of 100 eggs are 
0.64 by 0.50 inch. The measurements of 50 eggs in the United States 
National Museum averaged 16.4 by 12.7 millimeters ; the eggs showing 
the four extremes measure 18.3 by 13.2, 15.8 by 15.5, 14.7 by 12,2, and 
16.3 by 11.7 millimeters. 

The house wren has two distinct breeding periods. The first, ac- 
cording to Kendeigh (1940) , who has made very extensive observations 
at the Baldwin Bird Research Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio, begins in 
the middle of May and lasts until the end of June ; the second begins 
late in June and lasts to the middle of August. Egg-laying occurs 
most regularly during the first 2 weeks of each period, but occasional 
sets may be deposited at any time. One egg is laid each day during the 
egg laying period until the full complement of eggs is completed. 
Certain observers have credited the house wren with as many as three 
broods in a season, but these cases are unusual, and it is extremely 
doubtful whether three broods are ever successfully reared. 

Young. — The incubation period of the house wren is 13 days. The 
egg temperatures in the nest of the house wren according to Kendeigh 
fluctuate between 33.9° C. and 36.9° C. The temperature of 35° C. 
may be considered the temperature at which incubation to hatching is 


normally accomplished in 13 days. Based on the rate of gaseous ex- 
change the most favorable incubation temperature for rapid develop- 
ment falls between 35° and 37.8° C. On the basis of Kendeigh's com- 
putations, if we take into account the total amount of oxygen absorbed 
and assume the respiratory quotient to be 0.72, development at a con- 
trolled temperature of 37.8° C. would require only ten days, while 
at 32.2° C. it would require 18 days. Temperature is an important 
factor in determining the length of incubation. Reports by different 
observers present a variation in the length of the incubation period 
from 11 to 15 days, but this discrepancy can be explained in part 
through the lack of proper consideration in the factors involved and 
especially through the lack of accurate determination when incubation 
actually starts. 

Baldwin and Kendeigh (1927) made a detailed study of the be- 
havior of nesting house wrens, including their attentiveness and in- 
attentiveness. Their information was obtained by direct observations 
and from continuous records secured by the use of special apparatus 
involving the principle of thermoelectricity to determine the presence 
or absence of the birds from the nest. It seems desirable to quote their 
statements at considerable length. 

The differentiation between the periods of attentiveness when the bird is actu- 
ally engaged in nesting activities and the periods of inattentiveness when it is 
feeding or resting is best developed with the female for it is she who is most 
active in the reproduction of the species. 

After the female becomes mated with the male, she soon begins to carry in 
lining for the nest, the rough part of which has been begun or finished by the male 
some time previous. The female, however, does not carry nesting material into 
the box continuously for long at a time, getting her food at odd moments when 
she is looking for material. On the contrary, she works assiduously at building 
the nest for a period of a few to several minutes, and then goes off and hunts 
actively for food for herself, only to come back when this period is ended to carry 
more material for another stretch of time, and so on. While building her nest she 
is not concerned with looking for food. Likewise, when she is away looking for 
food she does not concern herself with nesting duties. She usually spends a 
great deal longer time away from the box than at the box during this phase of 
her nesting activities. 

The same holds true for the days during which she is laying her set of eggs. 
Her inattentive periods are usually much longer than her attentive periods, 
although she comes to the box at regular intervals throughout the day. As her 
set nears completion and the duties of incubation approach, the inattentive 
periods gradually shorten, and the attentive periods not only lengthen but become 
more numerous. 

The day on which the eggs hatched the activities during the early 
morning started at the normal rate. However, at one nest studied, 
beginning at 7 : 11 her record indicates considerable uneasiness. 

The reason for this became apparent when at 7 : 35 the first young bird was 
found to have just broken out of the shell. All of her eggs hatched during the 
rest of the day. The number of her attentive and inattentive periods during the 


day was 82, although the average number per day during the incubation period 
had been only 43 V2. This unusual restlessness, however, was exceptional, since 
our records for other females are much steadier. 

The female during the next few days gradually resumed her normal rate 
of activity. During the next 6 days when she spent considerable time brood- 
ing the young, the periods of attentiveuess averaged about 13%o minutes and her 
periods of Inattentiveness about 4%o- 

Wlien both adult birds were busy from morning till night with the feeding 
of the young, periods of attentiveness and inattentiveness still were the rule. 
The adults would feed the young several times in succession and then talie 
a short period off when they would get some food and rest for themselves. 
Sometimes they would feed the young repeatedly and rapidly nine, ten, or 
more times before they would stop. Then again the number of feedings per 
period would be only three or four, or in many cases, but one. Usually the 
number of feedings per period averaged higher in the morning than in the 
heat of the day. 

Baldwin (1921), through his exhaustive banding operations at 
Cleveland, Ohio, has shown that house wrens are not permanently 
mated. Not only do they change mates from season to season but also 
they shift mates between the two nesting periods of the same season. 
His banding records indicate also that the house wren breeds the 
season after hatching when it is one year old. Out of 156 wrens banded 
during the 5 years between 1915 and 1920, 10, or 6% percent, re- 
turned either to the same or to other nesting boxes on his premises. 
In more recent banding results Kendeigh (1941) reported a 75 per- 
cent return ratio of adults. Baldwin observed the details of the 
life history of seven different nests of which the following is typical : 
The nest was started on July 4 and completed 2 days later, July 6. 
The set of eggs was completed on July 13 and hatched on July 26, an 
incubation period of 13 days. The young left on August 10 after 
spending 15 days in the nest. The total cycle required 36 days. 

Col. S. T. Walker, of Milton, Fla., made the following detailed 
observations of a pair of nesting house wrens (Kidgway, 1889) : 

I was sick at the time, and watched the whole proceeding from the 
laying of the first stick to the conclusion. The nest was placed in one of 
the pigeonholes of my desk, and the birds effected an entrance to the room 
through sundry cracks in the log cabin. 

Nest begun April 15th. 

Nest completed and first egg laid April 27th. 

Last egg laid May 3d. 

Began incubation May 4th. 

Hatching completed May 18th. 

Young began to fly May 27th. 

Young left the nest June 1st. 

Total time occupied 47 days. 

The time spent by the young in the nest, as reported by various 
observers, varies from 12 to 18 days. Burns (1921) states the com- 
plete nesting cycle of the house wren is 35 to 45 days, whereas Be- 
wick's wren and the chickadee require 52 to 53 days. 


Baldwin and Bowen (1928) state that out of 104 nests under 
observation at Gates Mills, Ohio, 86 broods were successful. "The 
total number of eggs laid by all females under observation was 
581. Of these 424 or about 73 percent hatched, and 390, or about 
67 percent left the nest as normal young. The remaining 33 percent 
perished at one stage or another." 

The instincts of the house wren are so strongly developed in certain 
individuals that curious situations sometimes occur. Mrs. Bridge 
(1911) reports a single pair of birds nested on her premises, but 
two nests were constructed, one in a gourd and the other in a bird- 
house. When the young were hatched the brood in the birdhouse 
were fed by the male alone but the young in the gourd were fed 
by both members of the pair. The inference is that after the female 
laid both sets of eggs she incubated the eggs in the gourd while the 
male took care of those in the box. 

Kendeigh (1941) records cases of multiple nesting as follows: 

Although the female ordinarily remains with the young until they become 
independent, there is a tendency towards the end of the first period when the 
nestlings are being cared for in the box for the female to begin preparations for 
a second brood. She may inspect other boxes either of the same male or of other 
males in different territories. If acceptable, mating may occur very soon, nest- 
lining inserted, or even egg-laying begun before she is through caring for her 
first brood. It is but a small step to actual desertion of the first brood by the 
female in order to start a second brood that much sooner, but desertion does not 
ordinarily occur without provocation. When the female leaves, the male will 
ordinarily care for the young alone. He mostly stops singing and applies himself 
assiduously to the task of hunting food for his offspring. However, he does not 
brood nor does he stay in the box at night. If the female deserts before the 
young have acquired self-regulation of their body temperature, death usually 
follows, but after a week's development, the male is often able to bring them off 

It has been observed that house wrens that for some reason or other 
fail to raise a brood of their own and sometimes individuals that do 
not succeed in obtaining a mate will satisfy the urge for caring for 
offspring by feeding the adults or young of other species. Hills ( 1924) 
reports a case in which a house wren fed the adults and young of 
grosbeaks as well as a family of English sparrows. His account is as 
follows : "The female Grosbeak was on the nest and a House Wren was 
bringing small caterpillars to her, which she took from the Wren's 
beak and fed to her young. At first it seemed to me as though the 
Wren was liable to be cited as co-respondent, but soon the male Gros- 
beak came and relieved his mate on the nest, yet the Wren continued 
to come with food which the male Grosbeak likewise received and fed 
to the young. * * * Both of the Grosbeaks sometimes themselves 
ate the Wren's offerings, in place of feeding them to their young. The 
Wren made more trips to the nest than both Grosbeaks combined." 
After the young grosbeaks left the nest the wren persisted in feeding 


them directly. A few days later this same wren was observed feeding 
a family of English sparrows. 

There is evidence that polygamy may be practiced among house 
wrens. Kathleen M. Hempel (1919) gives an account of two families 
of wrens that were served by one male. The lone male carried food to 
both females during the course of incubation and assisted in feeding 
each of the broods of offspring. John W. Taylor (1905) cites a 
similar case at St. Paul, Minn., in which a male wren carried food to 
two nests, one located in a stump and the other about 60 feet away in 
a birdhouse. Metcalf ( 1919) writes that he had eight house-wren nests 
on his place at Foreston, Minn., but at no time did he observe more 
than two males. 

After the young leave the nesting box in which they were reared, 
they seldom return, but many observers have reported seeing the entire 
family brood rounded together by the parents, at the end of the day, 
to roosting places. These places may be other nesting boxes, a plat- 
form provided by an unused robin's or chipping sparrow's nest, or the 
dense foliage of a pine tree or shrub. Such roosts may be used for a 
week or more before the family disperses and the young assume a more 
or less independent role. Usually the adults remain with their young 
about 12 or 13 days, and for the first part of this period the parents 
feed the young practically everything they receive. During the last 
few days of this period they acquire the ability to hunt food for them- 
selves, and the parents spend less and less time with them. Finally, 
when the young are able to take care of themselves, the relationship of 
parent to offspring ceases and becomes that of individual to individual. 

Pluinages. — The natal down is sepia brown in color. This first plum- 
age is very scant, being represented in typical specimens by not more 
than 25 neossoptiles or down feathers. Of these there are five on each 
side of the crown and four on each side of the occipital region. On 
the back of the bird there are three on each side and usually a single 
one at the posterior end of the median line. 

The down undergoes disintegration by wear and abrasion in the 
nest, and by the time the young are ready to fly only a few filaments 
remain attached to the tips of the juvenal feathers. The juvenal 
plumage of the house wren is described by Dwight (1900) as follows : 
"Above, Prout's-brown, russet tinged on the rump and deep grayish 
sepia on the pileum, sometimes faintly barred. Wings and tail Prout's- 
brown, darkest on the wings both with wavy, dusky barring, the palest 
areas on the outer primaries. Below, including sides of the head, dull 
grayish white with dusky mottling, washed strongly with russet on 
the flanks and crissum. Orbital ring dusi^ buff. Bill and feet buffy 
sepia-brown, becoming darker." The juvenal plumage differs from 
that of the adult in the blackish mottling of the breast, but these 
markings disappear with the postjuvenal molt. 


Boulton (1927) has presented a detailed and exhaustive study of 
ptilosis of the house wren in which his general conclusions are as 
follows : 

The first appearance of feathers and the sequence of their development in the 
varions regions follow in definite pre-determined order, constant for any one 
region but varying among different regions. 

Development usually begins at one side or end of a region and spreads pro- 
gressively over it until growth is completed. 

In at least one case (primaries), development begins in the middle of the region 
and proceeds simultaneously toward each end. 

In another case (Ventral Tract), there are two centers of development. One 
appears in the middle of the tract and spreads both posteriorly and anteriorly. 
The other starts in the inter-ramal region and spreads backward until it meets 
the anterior portion of the other development center. In the Spinal Tract is 
found a somewhat parallel case. 

The feather sheath, after emerging from the skin, has no function and its rate 
of disintegration is primarily correlated with the amount of abrasion to which it 
is exposed. 

The growth of feathers appears to be retarded until the second week of nestling 
life, but, to a large extent, this is actually due to the fact that development is 
going on beneath the skin during the first week and is often overlooked, while the 
rupture of the feather sheath and consequent exposure of the feather during the 
second week makes growth appear more noticeably. 

According to Dwight (1900), 

the first winter plumage is acquired by a partial postjuvenal moult, beginning late 
in August, which involves the body plumage and wing coverts, but not the rest 
of the wings nor the tail. The young and old become practically indistinguishable. 
[This plumage is] similar to the previous plumage but darker and grayer with 
faint barring above, the wing coverts, chieflj'^ the lesser with whitish spots ; below 
whiter without mottling, the throat and sides obscurely barred with pale drab, 
the flanks and crissum boldly barred dull black which is bordered with russet. 

First nuptial plumage acquired by wear, excessive by the end of the breeding 
season, which brings out the barring more conspicuously and makes the bird 
grayer and paler, especially below. 

Adult winter plumage acquired by a complete postnuptial moult in August. 
Practically indistinguishable from first winter, perhaps averaging grayer with 
darker wings and tail. 

Adult nuptial plumage acquired by wear as in the young bird. * * * The 
sexes are alike and the moults correspond. 

Albinism and melanism, which occur frequently in many families 
of birds, is apparently rare in the Troglodytidae. Ruthven Deane, who 
gave this subject a great deal of attention, knew of none and em- 
phasized the absence of these plumages in certain families, including 
the Troglodytidae. He offered no explanation for its absence. In a 
search through the literature I have failed to find a single record of an 
albinistic or a melanistic form of the house wren. Hence these phases 
of plumage in this species are remarkable for their rarity if not their 

"Wetmore (1936) counted the number of contour feathers in various 


passeriform birds including two house wrens. A male secured on 
June 11, 1933, weighing 13.3 grams had 1,271 contour feathers, the 
latter weighing 0.6 gram. Another male, obtained on July 9, weigh- 
in 11.5 grams, had 1,178 contour feathers weighing 0.7 gram. 

Poole (1938) in studying the ratio of wing area to weight and the 
effect of this ratio on flight, determined the wing area of a house wren 
weighing 11.0 grams to be 48.40 square centimeters. The wing area 
per gram is shown to be 4.40 square centimeters. As a means of com- 
parison it is interesting to note that in the case of the loon, a poor 
flier, there is the ratio of only 0.56, while that of Leach's petrel, which 
spends much of its time in flight, has a ratio of 9.47. 

Temperature. — Kendeigh and Baldwin (1928) made an exhaustive 
series of temperature readings of the house wren in connection with 
their study of temperature control. For this work they used specially 
devised thermometers and thermocouples. 

The average temperature of wrens during the first day after hatching 
is 98.6° F. This gradually increases with the age of the young, and 
by the time they are 15 days old the average temperature is 106.7° F. 
According to these authors : 

The body temperature of young house wrens vary several degrees during the 
first few days out of the shell, but by the time they are ready to leave the nest 
their temperatures are not only higher but distinctly less variable. 

The development of a resistance in young house wrens against cold follows the 
sigmoid growth curve. This development of temperature resistance is due 
primarily to the mass of body increasing faster proportionately than the external 
dissipating surface, to the development of a feather covering, to the development 
of an internal dissipating surface probably under nervous respiratory control, 
and to the production of heat in the metabolism of the bird. * * * No efficient 
resistance against extreme heat is developed in young house wrens, although 
the rapid respiration from the lungs and air sacs probably serves toward this 

According to Kendeigh (1934) the standard temperature of adult 
house wrens taken at complete rest and without food in the alimentary 
tract is for the males 104.4° F. (40.2° C.) and for the females 
105.0° F. (40.6° C. ) . He says further : 

These values are fairly constant under various conditions, but may be lowered 
at night when the bird is inactive and without food for several hours. * * * 
Emotional excitement, muscular activity, extremely high air temperature, and 
the digestion of food cause a rise in body temperature, while starvation and 
extremely low air temperature produce a decrease. * * * Under natural 
conditions a slight correlation exists between variations in average bird and air 
temperatures from day to day ; but the variation in the average bird temperature 
may amount to only a few tenths of one degree while the average air temperature 
may vary 20" F. (11.1° C.) or more. Even this slight correlation may not be a 
direct one but dependent upon variations produced in the amount of activity of 
the bird from day to day. 


* * ♦ Under certain experimental conditions, the body temperature of a 
house wren has been lowered to below 75° F. (23.9" C.) yet the bird recovered 
when it was placed for a short time in a warm incubator. A body temperature of 
71° F. (21.7° C.) is, however, lethal. 

High air temperature^s become significant only when they get as 
high as 93° F. At air temperatures above this degree the resistance 
time of the birds decreases, body temperatures may rise, the general 
metabolism is abnormally disturbed, and the normal reproductive be- 
havior interfered with. Birds have upper limits of temperature 
tolerance as well as lower limits, and these .seem to be effective in con- 
trolling distribution. 

Food. — As far as its feeding habits are concerned, the house wren 
may be considered entirely beneficial to the interests of mankind. The 
food is almost all animal life, the small amount of plant material found 
in stomach examinations being purely incidental and taken in the 
course of capturing insects poised on the vegetation. Much of our 
knowledge of the food habits of the house wren is based on field obser- 
vations, but the most precise information we have has been derived 
from the detailed analyses of the stomach contents of individuals col- 
lected in all sections of the distributional range of the species. 

According to Beal (1897), 98 percent of the food is made up of 
insects or their allies and only 2 percent is vegetable matter. One-half 
of the food consisted of grasshoppers and beetles, the remainder cater- 
pillars, bugs, and spiders. The examination of 68 stomachs of house 
wrens, reported in a later publication, by Beal (Beal, McAtee, and 
Kalmbach, 1916) , substantiated the above findings. The largest four 
items taken in order of their amounts are bugs, grasshoppers and 
related forms, caterpillars, and beetles. The bugs, made up chiefly 
of stink bugs, negro bugs, and leafhoppers, constituted 29.34: percent 
of the food. Grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts are represented in the 
food throughout the season and aggregate 17.61 percent of the food. 
Moths and caterpillars, including such forms as cabbage worms and 
gypsy moths, make up 13.9 percent, and beetles trail closely in amount 
at 13.8 percent. Ants are eaten to the extent of only 8 percent of the 
yearly food, but during March they are more significant, being repre- 
sented in that month by 22.67 percent. Bees, wasps, and flies are 
taken in smaller amounts ; evidently these types of insects are left for 
the fleeter flycatchers and swallows. Spiders are very acceptable and 
are captured every month in the season. The latter are found by the 
inquisitive wrens while searching and exploring under piles of lumber 
or brush, stone walls, hollow logs, outhouses, and sheds. Only a mere 
3 percent of the insects eaten can be considered useful as enemies of 
destructive species of insects. 


In addition to the above-mentioned items of food, small numbers 
of millipeds, ticks, lice, aphids, snails, and small crustaceans are some- 
times included in the diet. There is no evidence in the examination of 
stomach contents that the wren eats fruit or other farm products, thus 
placing it high in the group of our beneficial birds. 

The nestlings are fed very frequently and consume enormous quanti- 
ties of food. Judd (1900) made field observations of a brood of three 
wrens that were housed in a cavity of a locust tree at Marshall Hall, Md. 
The nest with its family was transferred to a baking-powder can 
nailed to a trunk of a tree to facilitate the observations. In the course 
of 41/2 hours the mother wren made 110 visits, during which she deliv- 
ered 111 insects and spiders. Among those identified were 1 white grub, 
1 soldier bug, 3 millers (Noctuidae) , 9 spiders, 9 grasshoppers, 15 may- 
flies, and 20 caterpillars. On the following day similar observations 
were made from 9 : 35 a. m. to 12 : 40 p. m., during which time the young 
were fed 67 times. The food included 4 spiders, 5 grasshoppers, 17 
mayflies, and 20 caterpillars. 

Jones (1913) observed a pair of wrens feeding their young for a 
period of 65 hours, during which there were 667 visits to the nest, 560 
by the male and 107 by the female. "There were 637 [641?] pieces of 
food brought" — 161 geometrid larvae, 141 leafhoppers. 112 young 
grasshoppers, 56 bugs, 42 spiders, 29 crickets, 10 moths, 5 ants, 4 miscel- 
laneous, and 81 pieces unidentifiable ; and 29 visits were made without 

McClintock ( 1909 ) observed a wren feeding her nestlings consider- 
able numbers of blue-bottle flies. Sometimes the flies were stripped of 
their legs and wings, but oftener they were fed intact. 

Perhaps a record for number of feedings by an individual wren in 
one day is that of a male bird observed by Clara K. Bayliss (1917) at 
Macomb, 111. The pair of wrens nested in a bird box nailed to a dis- 
used poultry house. The female disappeared, probably killed, after 
the brood of seven was hatched. On June 26, when the young were 
12 days old, the lone male bird, during a continuous all-day watch 
from 4:15 a. m., the time of the first feeding, until 8 p. m., when 
activity ceased, made 1,217 visits to the nest with food. During the 
hour from 9 : 15 to 10 : 15 a. m. the bird made a record of 111 visits to 
the nest, or an average of nearly two visits for every minute. 

Similar observations by various other observers confirm the large 
number of visits made to the nests by the adult birds, indicating that 
enormous quantities of food are consumed by the young. Indeed the 
young as well as the adults spend the major part of their daylight 
hours in the serious business of feeding. 

Stevenson (1933) has shown that the stomachs of the young are 
consistently larger than those of the adults and has proved the greater 


food-carrying capacity of young birds over adults. Through a large 
series of measurements he has found that the average length of the 
intestine of a house wren one day old is 4.2 centimeters, and by the 
time it is 11 days old it reaches a maximum of 12.5 centimeters. He 
finds the value obtained by dividing the length of the intestine by the 
body weight decreases from 2.80 at the time of hatching to 1.31 at 11 
days. There is a gradual decrease in this proportion with increasing 
age until the birds become adults. Tests indicate that food passes 
through the entire alimentary tract in approximately 11/2 hours, and 
thus the food supply must be constantly replenished. Stomachs ex- 
amined at all hours of the day reveal that they are seldom empty and 
indicate that food is taken repeatedly even though the stomach al- 
ready contains food. 

Hervey Brackbill (MS.) , of Baltimore, Md., has attempted to as- 
certain the source of the food brought to the nestlings. He carefully 
watched the adult bird during 152 feedings to determine the places 
of its foraging. The parent flew out of sight on 107 occasions, but 
in 45 instances he was able to follow the bird to its hunting grounds. 
On 21 of the trips it went to the ground, a clipped lawn, wild land 
covered with tall grass and weeds, and the gutter of an asphalt-paved 
road. Twenty times it secured the food from a tree, one time climb- 
ing up the trunk of the nest tree after the fashion of a brown creeper 
to pick off a moth. It resorted to a bush three times, and once it 
hawked its prey by flying out in a swift loop from the nest tree. 

Voice. — The loud clear song of the house wren is one of the domi- 
nant characteristics of its striking personality. The Chippewa In- 
dians, who were keen observers of nature, fully recognized this trait 
as revealed by their name for the house wren: O-du-nd-mis-sug-ud- 
da-we'-shi., meaning a big noise for its size (Cooke, 1884). 

The scolding or alarm note of the house wren is a harsh, grating 
chatter, but the song is a burst of melody, a rather loud, hurried, 
strenuous, bubbling outpouring — shrill, ecstatic, and difficult to de- 
scribe or to translate into written words. It is a varied song, but to 
human ears it is not musical or nearly so appealing as that of its 
relative, the Carolina wren. The persistent repetition of its nervous 
energetic outbursts has after a time a tendency to tire the listener. 

Dr. Winsor M. Tyler, in correspondence, writes of the song as fol- 
lows ; "The house wren's song is a simple little smooth-running strain, 
a common form begins with a chatter of rapid notes and then, with- 
out pause, runs down the scale in a cascade of seemingly doubled notes. 
The syllables tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi-oodle-oodle-oodle-oodle suggest it some- 
what. It varies in form a great deal in minor details and is often full- 
bodied in tone of voice, but it is practically always delivered with 
the customary gush and tiresome reiteration. When disturbed, and 


it takes little to disturb a house wren, the bird bursts forth with a 
sharp, tense chatter of the Baltimore oriole, or with a long series of 
nervous fidgety chip-notes." 

In correspondence from Aretas A. Saunders, he presents an excellent 
analysis of 55 records he made during his extensive study of the songs 
of the house wren. His remarks follow : "While the song of the house 
wren is very variable, it most frequently consists of a series of very 
rapid notes, the pitch rising at the beginning, falling toward the end, 
with a sudden increase in loudness on the highest notes in the middle 
of the song. There are commonly groups of three to eight repeated 
notes on the same pitch. Some of the songs contain trills, but the 
majority do not. Twelve of my 55 records contain one or more trills, 
that is, places where the notes are so rapid that the single notes cannot 
be counted. With these 12 records omitted, and six others that are 
unusual and all from the same bird, the remaining 37 records average 
16 notes per song, the least being 11, in five records, and the most 23 in 
only one. 

"The pitch of my records ranges from D ' ' ' to B ' ' ' and a great 
majority have the highest and loudest notes on A ' ' '. The average 
song ranges from about two and a half tones from the lowest to the 
highest note. The greatest range of any one song is four tones, and 
the least one and a half. One unusual song is not considered, since it 
is all one pitch and therefore has no range. The songs of my records 
range from 1% to 2% seconds in length. The rapid notes seem to 
be about eight per second in most cases." 

Hervey Brackbill (MS.), of Baltimore, Md., has observed the 
house wren sing during the course of its flight. He states : "During 
May I saw a house wren burst into song on the last 2 or 3 yards of a 
50-yard flight from tree to tree, completing the song without inter- 
ruption after alighting. Again, one or two that were keeping close 
company several times continued songs while flitting from branch to 
branch, and once this bird began a song about a foot from the finish 
of a 5-yard flight." 

At the height of the singing season the song is repeated with an 
amazing frequency. In one timing of the song of a male of a pair 
that nested in a box on an Illinois farm, the full song was repeated 
three to four times every minute and at one time totaled five times 
during the course of one minute. 

The house wren begins its singing at an early date even before 
its departure from its winter to its summer haunts. Kopman (1915) 
writes that it sings freely for 3 weeks or more in its winter retreats 
of Louisiana before leaving on its northern migration. 

Early in the spring one may find a house wren singing a song that 
is an irregular indefinite jumble of notes, only slightly or not at all 
suggestive of the usual song of the species, which has been referred to 


as a "primitive" and by others as an "abnormal" song. Saunders 
(1929b) relates an interesting experience with a house wren singing 
these abnormal songs at Fairfield, Conn., as follows : 

[The] song was like that of no bird with which I am familiar. In fact the 
bird possessed nine different songs, no one of them normal, although one or two 
had a wrenlike suggestion in them. One began with five long, loud whistled 
notes, a little suggestive of some notes of the cardinal. Another began with two 
such notes and two others ended with a single note of this character. One was 
a series of slurs and somewhat suggested a Swamp Sparrow. Another in form 
but not in voice, was like a Song Sparrow song, yet no one of these songs sug- 
gested any of these birds clearly enough as to make me think them imitations. 
All these songs were recorded between June 4th and 17th, after which the bird 
disappeared. When I first heard this bird I had not the slightest idea what 
species was producing the song. 

The song of some birds ceases or deteriorates with the completion 
of the set of eggs and the beginning of incubation, but in the case 
of the house wren the full song is continued with great frequency 
even when the young are being fed. Saunders (1929b) has presented 
an interesting interpretation of this continued singing from the stand- 
point of function. During the early part of the breeding season it 
serves as a territory song, but later when the young appear it acts as 
a stimulus in prompting the young to a feeding response. Saunders 
writes as follows : 

Many have undoubtedly observed the incessant singing of the male House 
Wren when feeding young and the habit of approaching the nest with a bill full 
of insects and singing just before entering the door, without dropping any of the 
insects. This explains why the bird has this habit. The song at that time does 
not differ materially from the territory song of earlier spring but it is no longer 
a territory song, but a stimulus for the young. According to my own observations 
during the early nest life of the young House Wrens, the male gathers the food 
and the female stays in the nest with the young, probably brooding, the male 
passing the food to her at the entrance. Later, when the young are older and 
need no stimulus, but need a greater quantity of food, both parents gather food 
and feed the young. 

According to correspondence received from A. D. DuBois, the notes 
of the male, at the time when the wrens had young, changed to a 
shorter simpler strain consisting principally of two tones: a succes- 
sion of high notes followed by a succession of low notes. 

The song of the house wren is continued to a time well beyond the 
nesting season. The bird is in full song until the last week of July 
and then tapers off into August, but it continues to sing during most of 
the month and has been heard as late as November 5. Evans (1918) , 
a florist at Evanston, 111., left the door of his greenhouse open in the 
fall. A house wren entered, and in the evening the song was heard. 
The bird remained all winter, and the song was delightful in zero 
weather of January. These late songs, however, are different, often 
exhibiting a decided change in quality and volume when compared 

758066—48 10 


with the territory song. Likewise, the song has none of the spon- 
taneity and vigor of the spring song ; rather it is a low rambling warble. 
They are abnormal songs resembling those that are sometimes heard 
early in spring. Likewise there comes at this time a correlated change 
in the behavior of the birds. They no longer cling to the vicinity of 
human habitations and are more apt to be found inhabiting the rocks 
and shrubs of wild and unfrequented localities. 

Albert K. Brand (1938) has made recordings of numerous bird 
songs on film, a medium from which sounds can be studied objectively. 
Such a film reveals a picture of the number of vibrations per second 
that determines the pitch of sound. He has found that the average 
pitch of passerine bird songs is 4,280 vibrations, or a quarter of a note 
higher than C7, the highest note on the piano keyboard. The approxi- 
mate mean of the notes of the house wren is 4,100. The highest note in 
its song reaches 7,125, while the lowest is about 2,050 vibrations per 

In the table below are Brand's determinations of the pitch of the song 
of the house wren placed alongside those of the crow, which has a low- 
pitched voice, and those of the black-polled warbler, a bird with an 
extremely high voice. This table will serve to facilitate a comparison 
in the pitch of these three very different songs. 

House Wren Crow Warbler 

Approximate mean 4, 100 1, 500 8, 900 

Highest note 7,125 1,650 10,225 

Lowest note 2,050 1,450 8,050 

EneTTiies. — As is true with many birds, the house wren is host to a 
number of external parasites. Peters ( 1936 ) lists five species as having 
been found on the house wren : Two lice, Menopon sp. and Philopterus 
subfavescens (Goef .) , and three species of mites, Dermanyssus galUnae 
(Deeger), Liponyssus sylviarum (C. & F.), and Tromhicula lohartoni 
Ewing. Wliile the presence of lice and mites is not usually fatal to the 
birds, heavy infestations are very annoying and may prove harmful 
especially to the nestlings, which have no means of ridding themselves 
of the pests. 

Baldwin (1922) cites a specific example in which there was a lone 
house wren in a nest that received all the food and attentions of the 
adult birds. This nestling, instead of growing rapidly in size and 
weight, as might be expected, was far below normal, greatly under- 
nourished, and a miserable skinny-looking specimen. This condition 
prevailed until a heavy infestation of lice was discovered and a poultry- 
louse killer applied on the twelfth day. After that there was some 
improvement, and a considerable gain in weight was noted. 

No records of internal parasites and diseases of the house wren have 
come to my attention, but doubtless a thorough examination of many 
specimens would reveal them. 


Nests of the house wren have been found by Mason (1936) to be 
infested by the larvae of the blood-sucking fly Protocalliphora splen- 
dida sialia. These larvae have been found to be very destructive to the 
young of such box-nesting species as the bluebird and tree swallow. 
The nests of the wren are less favorable for the parasites, but even so 
they have proved to be an important factor in the mortality of nestling 
wrens. This has been found to be especially serious when the infesta- 
tions are accompanied by other unfavorable conditions such as bad 
weather, and lack of food which tend to lower the resistance of the 
young. These flies are not known to be carriers of diseases, but, when 
present in sufficient numbers in a bird's nest the larvae often suck 
enough blood from the young birds to bring about their death. 

In the examination of 39 nests of the wren a total of 201 larvae and 
puparia were found. A secondary parasite, which serves as a natural 
check on ProtocalU'phora^ is the chalcid Mormoniella^ and it is thus 
desirable to give this little fly every opportunity to increase in numbers. 
When heavy infestations of the blood-sucking fly Protocdlli'phora 
occur, it is important to clear the nesting boxes after the young are four 
or five days old. 

It is well within the range of possibility that pests such as Proto- 
calliphora have been an important factor in the local disappearance of 
the wren in sections of New England where the English sparrow has 
shouldered most of the blame. 

Spiders hatched from egg sacs carried into the nests with sticks 
sometimes prove a menace to the wrens. Hathaway (1911) gives an 
account of a pair of wrens that were driven away by spiders. His 
story in part is as follows : 

About a week after I missed the delightful song, so I started to investigate. 
Rapping on the stub no bird appeared, and I soon saw that the edges of the hole 
were alive with small spiders. I took the stub down and examined it, and found 
the nest swarming with these spiders. The birds in building the nest bad used 
small twigs entirely and had thickly stuccoed them with the white egg sacs of a 
species of spider, that had hatched before the wren had deposited her own eggs, 
and instead of making a home for her young, she had unwittingly gathered together 
a fine family of spiders and provided them with a well-sheltered retreat. 

Cats rank as enemy No. 1 of the house wren. Since these birds nest 
about human habitations, especially on farms, where cats are common, 
they fall prey to them oftener than do species of birds nesting in 
remote localities. Cats are especially destructive to young when they 
leave the nest prematurely. Reports of adults' falling victim to cats 
are common, but young are always in imminent danger of the ravages 
of these bird destroyers. I vividly recall seeing a cat seize two young 
wrens in rapid succession when a brood of seven were startled from 
the nest before some of them were able to fly well. The unfortunate 
youngsters landed on the ground where a prowling cat was poised 
for action. 


Errington ( 1935 ) reports finding the remains of house wrens in the 
stomach contents of red and gray foxes ; hence individuals inhabiting 
places remote from the houses of man are also subject to prey by pred- 
atory mammals. Wrens are also preyed upon by predatory birds 
such as owls; Fisher (1893) reports finding the remains of a house 
wren in the stomach contents of a screech owl, and Errington (Er- 
rington et al., 1941) found three wrens in the pelletal remains of the 
horned owl. 

While the house wren is notorious for its aggressions toward other 
birds, sometimes the tables are turned and it is driven away by huskier 
intruders. Henderson (1931) reports that Carolina wrens nest in 
boxes at his home, located near a heavy forest at Greensburg, Ind. 
Although house wrens attempt nest-building on his premises, they have 
been completely driven out by the Carolina wrens. The same can be 
said for Bewick's wren in the southwestern section of the range of the 
house wren, although in some localities the situation is reversed. In 
the past the English sparrow has offered the severest competition. 
Indeed, the scarcity of the house wren in certain sections of its range, 
especially in New England, has been attributed to this persistent and 
audacious marauder. Knight (1908) states that the house wren was a 
common bird near Bangor, but at the advent of the English sparrow 
the species began to diminish about 1885 and none have occurred there 
since 1887. Similar conditions prevailed in Massachusetts. In recent 
years since the marked decrease in English sparrows the house wren is 
coming back and is now nesting in sections where for years it was 
virtually extirpated. 

Other birds have had their innings with the house wren, and even 
the midget of a hummingbird may spend its wrath on it when occa- 
sion arises. Hervey Brackbill (MS.) submits the following interest- 
ing experience : "One late August day I came upon a wren under attack 
by a ruby-throated hummingbird. Scolding, the wren was hopping 
and flitting from one place to another close in to the two main stems 
of a small locust tree while the hummer — apparently unable to follow 
it through the twigs directly — darted in at it from the outer edge of 
the tree, then shot back out again to strike in through some other open- 
ing at the wren in its new position. The hummer made half a dozen 
thrusts within the next few minutes ; then the wren apparently found 
a safe spot. The hummer perched for a while, in near the heart of 
the tree, then flew off." 

Snakes are not a common enemy of the house wren, but the following 
experience of Hunter (1935) is interesting : "Last spring on one of my 
nature rambles at West Point, 111., my attention was drawn to the nest 
of a pair of House Wrens * * * by the alarm notes of the owners. 
Upon making an investigation I found it necessary to remove a Garter 
Snake * * * from the nest, while the process of digesting five 
young wrens continued uninterrupted." 


Wasps, bumblebees, fields mice, red squirrels, and chipmunks have 
also been cited as troublesome to nestling house wrens. 

Friedmann (1938) has reported two cases in which the house wren 
has been host to the eggs of the parasitic cowbird. The character of the 
usual nesting site of the house wren is such that they are seldom 
imposed upon by these molothrine visitors. 

Sometimes man unwittingly becomes an enemy of the house wren 
by spraying vegetation to kill insect larvae that are eaten by the 
wrens. Hoffman (1925) writes as follows: "For three successive 
years the House Wrens have abandoned their nests in the writer's 
yard when their young were partly grown. The dried remains of 
the nestlings were found when the nest boxes received a cleaning 
in the fall. At the time that the nests were abandoned the currant 
bushes had become infested with the small green currant worms 
and had been dusted with finely powdered arsenate of lead. It was 
shortly after the old birds were observed carrying the arsenate- 
covered worms to their nests that they disappeared and were not seen 

Philp (1937) reports that house wrens among other birds were 
blackened by smudge made during a cold wave to protect fruit from 
a threatening frost. The carbolic acid in the crude-oil vapor that 
covered both their food supply and their plumage was not enough 
to prove fatal to the birds, but Philp states the birds were so saturated 
with the greasy oily deposit that they could not regain their normal 
colors until the following molt. 

During migration fatalities frequently befall the house wren when 
it flies into lighthouses and tall city buildings. Overing (1938) re- 
ports that a house wren was killed by flying against the Washington 
Monument, thus sharing the fate of many other species of birds. 
Sometimes wrens are carried out to sea by storms: Sprunt (1931) 
states that a house wren came aboard a ship when it was well out 
to sea off Cape Lookout, N. C. It crept under the winches and 
about the mooring bilts for the better part of an hour. 

Fall. — In September the house wren, as we know it as a tenant 
in our nesting boxes during summer, undergoes a marked change 
in behavior, in song, and in plumage. At this time it deserts the 
environment of man and resorts to the deep recesses of the woodlands, 
where it skulks among the tangled underbrush making its presence 
more difficult to detect. The song as previously noted may con- 
tinue, but it undergoes considerable modification. Its plumage is 
grayer and darker than the garb worn in summer. Little wonder 
that Audubon thought the bird he observed at this season to be a 
different and a distinct species, which he described as the wood wren. 

In New England and in most of its summer range the last house 
wrens remain until the middle of October, but the majority of them 


have departed for their winter quarters in the Southern States be- 
fore this time. A few may linger until the first week of November. 
On November 5, 1941, one was seen and heard singing at Kingston, 
R. I., and another was observed on November 7, 1938, at Amherst, 
Mass., a record for the last-seen house wren in that region. Accord- 
ing to A. H. Howell (1932), the first house wrens reach their haunts 
in Florida during the last week of September or the first week of 
October. His earliest two records are of one seen at Oxford on 
September 26, 1928, and one at Orlando on September 27, 1909. 

Concerning the house wren in its winter haunts Chapman (1912) 
writes : 

It has been claimed that the name of the House Wren is a misnomer, because 
in the South during the winter these birds are found in the forests miles away 
from the nearest liabitation. Tliis, however, is owing to circumstances over 
which the House Wren has no control. He is just as much of a House Wren 
in the south as he is in the north; you will find a pair in possession of every 
suitable dwelling. The difiiculty is that in the winter there are more House 
Wrens than there are houses, and being of a somewhat irritable disposition, 
the House Wren will not share his quarters with others of his kind. Late 
comers, therefore, who can not get a snug nook about a house or outbuilding, 
are forced to resort to the woods. 

A. H. Howell (1932) writes of the house wren in Florida as follows : 
"This little wren, well known in the North as a conspicuous inhabitant 
of orchards and dooryards, loses most of its familiarity while resort- 
ing in the South, and during the winter months frequents palmetto 
thickets and brushy tangles in the hammocks. Here the birds are 
shy and for the most part quiet, but as spring opens one may occasion- 
ally hear snatches of the bubbling song, which on the breeding grounds 
is a nearly continuous performance." In Alabama, Howell (1924) 
states that the house wren "is quiet and rather shy, frequenting low 
bushes and weed patches in the fields." Of the bird in Louisiana 
Oberholser (1938) writes: "It frequents much more commonly the 
forests, thickets, and swamps, where it skulks about among the under- 
growth, and is sometimes difficult to observe. * * * It is seldom 
found in flocks, but most of the birds move singly or in pairs." 

Kendeigh ( 1934) concludes in his study of the role of environment 
in the life of birds that — 

The northward distribution of the eastern house wren during the breeding 
season appears to be limited primarily by low night temperatures for which 
the shortening of the daily periods of darkness does not entirely compensate. 
The southward distribution appears to be primarily controlled by high daily 
maximum temperatures and competition with the Bewick wren, Thryomanes 6. 
bewicki (Audubon). The eastward limit of the breeding range is determined 
by the Atlantic Ocean, while a decrease in relative humidity and precipitation 
may be directly or indirectly concerned in the westward transition from the 
eastern to the western subspecies of the house wren. Other factors are of 
uncertain or secondary importance. 


The wintering area of the eastern house wren is limited on the north by low 
night temperatures combined with long daily periods of darkness, short day- 
light periods, low intensity of solar radiation, snow, and lack of available food. 
On the east, the wintering area is limited by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south 
by the Gulf of Mexico, and on the west by much the same conditions, perhaps, 
that are effective during the breeding season. 

The southward migration of the eastern house wren in the autumn is necessary 
for the continued existence of the species, while the northward migration in 
the spring avoids unfavorable breeding and existing conditions in the south. 
By migrating south in the autumn and north in the spring, the bird maintains 
itself in a more nearly uniform and favorable environment throughout the year. 
The regulation of migration as to time is controlled in the spring by rising daily 
maximum and night temperatures and changing relative proportions daily of 
light and darkness. In the autumn, decreasing temperatures particularly at 
night, longer nights and shorter days, and, for some species, decreasing food 
supply are most important. 


Range. — Southern Canada to southern Mexico. 

Breeding range. — The house wren breeds north to southern British 
Columbia (southern half of Vancouver Island, Chilliwack, and 150- 
mile House) ; northern Alberta (Vermilion, McMurray, and Lesser 
Slave Lake) ; southern Manitoba (Duck Mountain and Lake St. 
Martin) ; central Ontario (Lake Abitibi) ; southern Quebec (Quebec) ; 
and New Brunswick (Fredericton and Grand Falls). East to New 
Brunswick (Fredericton) ; casually to Nova Scotia (Wolfville) ; and 
south through the Atlantic Coast States to North Carolina (Beaufort 
and Salisbury) and western South Carolina (Greenwood). South 
to South Carolina (Greenwood) ; Kentucky (Harlan) ; northern Okla- 
homa (Tulsa and Enid) ; southern New Mexico (Cloudcroft and Silver 
City) ; Arizona (Tombstone and the Huachuca Mountains) ; and 
northwestern Baja California (Sierra San Pedro Martir). West to 
northwestern Baja Balifornia (Sierra San Pedro Martir) ; western 
California (Santa Barbara, Palo Alto, and Berkeley) ; Oregon (Pine- 
hurst, Elkton, and Portland) ; Washington (Vancouver, Shelton, and 
Bellingham) ; and British Columbia (Courtenay). It may breed 
rarely in the uplands of Mexico, as specimens have been taken in the 
breeding season, but as yet no nests or young have been reported. 

Winter range. — The house wren in winter is found north to southern 
California (Los Angeles, San Bernardino, occasionally to central Cali- 
fornia) ; southern Arizona (Tucson) ; northeastern Texas (Bonham 
and Corsicana) ; southern Louisiana (Jennings and Port Allen) ; Ala- 
bama ( Autauga ville) ; and the coast of South Carolina (Cape 
Komain) . East to South Carolina (Charleston and Port Royal) ; and 
Florida (Daytona and Miami). South to Florida (Miami and Long 
Pine Key) ; along the Gulf coast to southern Mexico, Veracruz (Tres 
Zapotes) ; Oaxaca (Huajuapam) ; and Guerrero (Chilpancingo). 


West to Baja California (Cape region), and southern California (San 
Diego, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino). 

The above distribution applies to the species as a whole, which has 
been divided into three subspecies. The eastern house wren {T. a. 
aedon) breeds from New Brunswick southward east of the Alleghenies. 
The Ohio house wren {T. a. haldwini) breeds from Michigan to central 
Quebec south to Kentucky and western Virginia. The western house 
wren {T. a. 'parhmanii) breeds from Wisconsin and Illinois westward. 
It is impossible at this time to break down the winter range by races ; in 
fact, it seems more than likely that there is considerable overlapping. 

S'pring rnigration. — Late dates of spring departure from the winter 
home are Florida — Daytona Beach, April 28. Georgia — Macon, May 1. 
North Carolina — Raleigh, May 4. Louisiana — New Orleans, April 18. 
Texas — San Antonio, May 14. Arkansas — Helena, April 27. 

Early dates of spring arrival are : North Carolina — Raleigh, April 
20. Virginia — Lynchburg, April 11. West Virginia — Bluefield, 
April 14. District of Columbia — Washington, April 11. Pennsyl- 
vania — Pittsburgh, April 21. New Jersey — Elizabeth, April 16. New 
York — New York, April 19. Connecticut — Fairfield, April 22. Mas- 
sachusetts — Springfield, April 22. Vermont — Burlington, April 22. 
Maine — Waterville, May 6. Quebec — Montreal, May 8. Ohio — Ober- 
lin, April 23. Indiana — Indianapolis, March 29. Illinois — Olney, 
April 15. Ontario — Toronto, April 2. Michigan — ^Ann Arbor, April 
25. Iowa — Des Moines, April 21. Wisconsin — Milwaukee, April 10. 
Minnesota — Duluth, April 27. Kansas — ^Manhattan, April 6. Ne- 
braska — Omaha, April 16. South Dakota — Yankton, April 17. North 
Dakota — Bismarck, April 18. Colorado — Denver, April 20. Mon- 
tana — Billings, April 23. Manitoba — Winnipeg, April 23. Sas- 
katchewan — Indian Head, April 14. Alberta — Camrose, May 9. 
Arizona — Tombstone, April 1. California — Santa Barbara, March 
17. Oregon — Corvallis, April 7. Washington — Seattle, April 12. 
British Columbia — Victoria, April 11. 

Fall migration. — Late dates of fall departure are : British Colum- 
bia — Okanagan Landing, October 6. Washington — Spokane, Sep- 
tember 25. Oregon — Weston, November 10. California — San Fran- 
cisco, November 4. Alberta — Edmonton, October 7. Saskatche- 
wan — Qu'Appelle, October 1. Manitoba — Aweme, October 5. Mon- 
tana — Big Sandy, October 12. Colorado — Colorado Springs, October 
14. North Dakota — Fargo, October 6. South Dakota— -Sioux Falls, 
September 29. Nebraska — ^Lincoln, October 27. Kansas — Onaga, 
October 2. Minnesota — St. Paul, October 6. Wisconsin — Madison, 
October 2. Iowa — Iowa City, October 2. Missouri — Columbia, Oc- 
tober 9. Michigan — Grand Rapids, October 13. Ontario — Ottawa, 
September 30. Illinois — Urbana, October 1. Indiana — Fort Wayne, 
October 11. Ohio — Columbus, October 17. Quebec — Quebec, Oc- 


tober 6. Vermont — St. Johnsbury, October 2. Massachusetts — Bos- 
ton, October 18. Connecticut — Hartford, October 14. New York — 
Rochester, September 21. New Jersey — Elizabeth, October 30. 
Pennsylvania — Berwyn, October 20. District of Columbia — Wash- 
ington, October 23. West Virginia — Bluefield, October 13. Vir- 
ginia — Lexington, October 6. 

Some early dates of fall arrival are : North Carolina — Piney Creek, 
September 3. Georgia — Athens, September 15. Florida — Pensa- 
cola, October 6. Arkansas — Delight, September 23. Louisiana — 
New Orleans, October 8. Texas — Corpus Christi, October 7. 

Some light on the individual migrations of house wrens may be 
gathered from the following records of banded birds : Banded at Ka- 
tonah, N. Y., September 14, 1937, and taken at Palma Sola, Fla., No- 
vember 18, 1937; banded at East Lansing, Mich., May 17, 1937, re- 
covered at Eockledge, Fla., May 11, 1938 ; banded at Notre Dame, Ind., 
June 13, 1931, recovered at Moultrie, Ga., December 11, 1931; banded 
at South Bend, Ind., June 20, 1930, and caught at Ardmore, Ala., 
January 18, 1931; banded at Zion, 111., July 10, 1931, and killed near 
Baxley, Ga., November 1, 1931. 

Casual records. — The house wren has been recorded casually at 
Kispiox, British Columbia, where a specimen was collected on June 2, 
1921 ; and at Fort St. John where one was observed June 18, 1943 ; at 
Fort Simpson, Mackenzie, on May 20, 1904 ; one observed near The Pas, 
Manitoba, on September 26, 1942; another observed near Churchill, 
Manitoba, on June 21, 1944; and at Kamouraska, Quebec, it was 
recorded for the first time on June 19, 1939. 

Egg dates. — California : 119 records, April 11 to June 26 ; 65 records. 
May 1 to May 20, indicating the height of the season. 

Colorado: 22 records, May 26 to July 10; 12 records, June 3 to 
June 15. 

Illinois : 32 records, May 10 to July 27 ; 14 records, May 10 to May 
30 ; 10 records, June 5 to June 20. 

Montana : 12 records, June 5 to June 30. 

Ontario : 13 records. May 29 to July 23. 

Virginia: 13 records. May 15 to July 10; 6 records. May 21 to 
May 29. 



Plate 28 


Audubon (1841a) named this wren after his friend Dr. George Park- 
man, of Boston, considering it a distinct species. It has since been 
shown to intergrade with the eastern house wren. Its range includes 
most of the western United States and southern western Canada. It 


differs but little from the eastern bird, averaging only slightly larger, 
but being decidedly paler and grayer, with the back and scapulars 
more distinctly barred with dusky. 

Its habits are so similar to those of its eastern relative that nearly 
all that Dr. Gross has contributed in his full life history of the 
eastern house wren would apply equally well to the western race. It 
seems, however, that the western bird is a little less domestic in its 
taste, less of a dooryard bird, or rather more of a woodland bird than 
our familiar eastern house wren. It does, of course, frequent the 
haunts of man, but seems to be more often found away from them in 
woodlands. The difference may be more apparent than real, for much 
of the western house wren's range is thinly settled, but where it does 
come in contact with civilization it becomes less primitive and adapts 
itself to the new surroundings. 

In the western mountain ranges, it is often found breeding in the 
forested regions up to 10,000 feet, or nearly up to timberline. In the 
Huachuca Mountains, Ariz., we found it breeding commonly in the 
coniferous forests, from 7,000 feet upward. Mr. Swarth (1904:b) says : 
"Upon their arrival in the spring, the first being noted on April 8th, 
they were distributed over all parts of the range, but soon withdrew 
to the higher altitudes to breed; nor did they descend again when 
the young were out of the nest, as so many species similarly placed, 

In southwestern Saskatchewan we found this wren very abundant 
in the timber belts along the creeks, where it was the commonest and 
most ubiquitous bird and one of the most persistent singers; it ap- 
parently had not yet learned to frequent the ranches. Late in May 
they were evidently just mating, as the males were chasing the females 
about and paying them courtship ; I saw a female perched on a fence 
post, with quivering wings, while her ardent lover hopped along the 
rail toward her, with wings and tail spread and head thrown back, 
pouring out a rich flood of rapturous song. 

Nesting. — The western house wren is no more particular about its 
choice of a nesting site than is its eastern relative ; many and varied 
are the nooks and crannies in which it seems satisfied to build its 
nest; any old cavity almost anywhere seems to suit it. In North 
Dakota we found a nest in the hollow of a dead bianch on an old 
stump of an elm, just above a larger hollow containing an occupied 
goldeneye's nest, and almost under an occupied nest of Krider's hawk ; 
another nest was found in a bank swallow's burrow. 

In the timber belts along the streams in Saskatchewan we found 
many nests in the hollows in the boxelders and poplars. In the 
Huachuca Mountains, in Arizona, we found one nest in a pigeon-hole 
case in a deserted house in an abandoned mining camp ; and my com- 
panion chopped out a nest in a knothole in a large oak, about 30 feet 


from the ground ; both of these were at an elevation of about 8,000 
feet. F. Seymour Hersey mentions in his Manitoba notes a nest that 
was built in the skull of a moose, with horns attached, that was hung 
up in a tree back of an Indian's house. 

The commonest and most primitive nesting sites are in natural cav- 
ities or crevices in stumps, or in fallen or standing trees, including old 
woodpecker holes; such sites are usually at no great height above 
ground, generally below 10 feet ; heights of 20 or 30 feet are unusual. 
The highest nest I find recorded is reported by Grinnell, Dixon, and 
Linsdale (1930) in the Lassen Peak region: "The bird carried twigs 
to the top of one of the tallest of the dead yellow pine stubs of that 
vicinity, fully fifty meters above the ground. The bird each trip moved 
upward by a well defined route, flying from limb to limb as though 
moving up a staircase. By the time the wren reached the nest in a 
crack at the top of the stub, the observer on the ground could scarcely 
trace its movements." They found two other nests that were ten 
meters up in similar stubs, as well as others at more normal heights. 

Nests have been found in cavities in rocks and crevices in caves. 
Ridgway (1877) mentions some interesting nests, observed in Nevada : 
"One nest was placed behind a flat mass of a small shrub {Spiraea 
caespitosa) , which grew in moss-like patches against the face of a cliff. 
Another one, and the only one not concealed in some manner, was built 
in the low crotch of an aspen, having for its foundation an abandoned 
Robin's nest. It consisted of a somewhat conical pile of sticks, nearly 
closed at the top, but with a small opening just large enough to admit 
the owner. Including its bulky base, the total height of this structure 
was about 15 inches." 

About human habitations bird boxes are eagerly accepted where 
these are available ; otherwise, any nooks or crannies on or in buildings 
are used, or any tin can, box, pail, crate, empty stove pipe, or old hat 
or coat left hanging in a shed will do. Some such interesting nests 
have been described. Dr. W. W. Arnold (1906) shows a photograph 
of a huge nest: "A shallow box afforded the foundation of the nest, 
which was constructed of the smaller twigs of the scrub oak and built 
into the form of a pyramid. Many of the twigs were forked and skill- 
fully locked together, forming a very rigid structure, 12 inches wide at 
the base, 51/^ inches across the top, and 16 inches high." 

The nests are constructed mainly of small sticks or twigs, or rather 
more accurately, this material is used to fill up, or to attempt to fill up, 
the cavity adopted ; in some cases an immense amount of such material 
is brought in, sometimes enough to fill a bushel basket. The lining con- 
sists mainly of feathers, often in great profusion and of many colors. 

Many nests contain more or less snakeskin, and some are largely lined 
with it. Dix Teachenor (1927) reports that out of 30 nests of western 
house wrens examined by him and Harry Harris, near Kansas City, 


Mo., 19 contained cast snakeskins, or about 63 percent of those 

Miss Maude Merritt (1916) gives an interesting list of material 
which a male wren brought into a bird box and mixed with the usual 
assortment of twigs: One hat pin, 1 buckle, 10 bits of chicken wire, 
2 stays, 3 fasteners, 1 unidentified, 3 paper clips, 1 staple, 1 brass ring, 
2 toilet wires, 6 collar stays, 2 oyster-bucket handles, part of a mouse 
trap, 67 hair pins, 38 bits of wire, 5 safety pines, 3 steel pins, 22 nails, 
and 3 brads. The female refused to accept the nest and departed; I 
don't blame her. 

While we were studying birds at Lake Winnipegosis, Manitoba, my 
companion, F. Seymour Hersey, watched a house wren carrying nest- 
ing material through a knothole in a shed where it was building a nest. 
She worked at it industriously; her time from leaving the nest until 
returning with more sticks varied from 25 to 35 seconds, though once 
she was gone a minute and 10 seconds. She had considerable difficulty 
at times in forcing the twigs through the small hole. Often the twig 
would drop from her bill, when she would pick it up and try again ; 
one twig, about 8 inches long, was dropped and picked up five times 
before she succeeded in getting it through the hole. He placed some 
duck feathers near the hole, thinking she might use them, but she 
carried them away and dropped them at some distance. 

Eggs. — The western house wren lays about the same number of eggs 
as the eastern bird, and the two are similar in size, shape, and mark- 
ings. The measurements of 40 eggs in the United States National 
Museum average 16.3 by 12.6 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 17.7 by 12.7, 17.3 by 13.3, 14.7 by 12.2, and 17.3 by 
11.2 millimeters. 

Young. — Practically all that has been written about the young of 
the eastern house wren would apply equally well to the western sub- 
species, but there are a few items of interest that are worth adding 
here. Mrs. Amelia S. Allen (1921) gives the following list of food 
that was fed to a brood of eight young during a period of 1 hour, 
10:20 to 11:20 a. m., on June 15, 1921, at Berkeley, Calif.: 5 lady- 
bugs, 4 crane-flies, 5 large and 4 smaU beetles, 2 wireflies, 1 lacewing, 
1 leafhopper, 5 crickets, 1 grasshopper, 1 butterfly, 1 moth, 1 milliped, 
1 grub, and 1 unknown; there were 33 feedings, with an average in- 
terval between feedings of 14 minutes and 32.7 seconds for each nest- 

Dr. J. G. Cooper (1876) tells a remarkable story of a pair of wrens, 
with no other wrens within a quarter of a mile, that used the extra 
nest, built by the male, to raise a second brood simultaneously with 
the first ! As soon as the first nest was finished, the male began to 
build another. "The female rarely assisted in this work, though I oc- 
casionally saw both there, and in due time the second nest was fin- 


ished. Soon after the young in the first nest were hatched, and 
although needing much attention, the old birds still frequented the 
new nest, and I began to suspect that one of them was sitting on eggs 
there. This suspicion was soon verified by hearing the young, and 
seeing them fed. In this case each parent must have been sitting at 
the same time on a nest, perhaps taking turns, during the week that 
elapsed before the first hatching." 

Young wrens are known to return to their nest to roost at night 
for a while after leaving the nest. Miss Merritt (1916) tells of a 
brood of four young wrens that, on the second evening after leaving 
the nest, were escorted by their mother to an empty catbird's nest in 
a syringa bush, where they spent the night. "The entire family of 
four young ones returned with the mother each evening for 14 days. 
On the fifteenth evening one of the young wrens was missing ; on the 
next evening two did not return." On the evening of the seventeenth 
day the one remaining young refused to remain in the nest; it flew 
away and never returned. The mother bird never roosted in the cat- 
bird's nest, and her roost was not discovered. 

Food. — The food of the western house wren agrees so closely in its 
general character with that of the eastern bird, that what has been 
reported on the food of the latter will illustrate very well the food of 
the former. Prof. Beal (1907) examined only 36 stomachs from Cali- 
fornia, of which he says that "animal matter, consisting entirely of 
insects and spiders, formed 97.5 percent, and vegetable food 2.5 per- 
cent. Beetles, as a whole, amount to about 20 percent; caterpillars, 
aggi-egating 24 percent, are taken in the earlier months of the year ; 
and Hemiptera, amounting to 33 percent, are eaten chiefly in the 
last of the season. Grasshoppers amount to about 5 percent, and dif- 
ferent insects, mostly ants and other Hymenoptera, aggregate 15 per- 

The western bird is evidently just as beneficial in its food habits as 
its eastern relative. About the only useful insects that it destroys 
are the coccinellid beetles, or ladybugs, and it destroys no fruit. 

I cannot find any evidence that it has the harmful habit of destroy- 
ing the nests or eggs of other birds, of which the eastern bird has been 
so often accused. It is seldom imposed upon by the western races of 
the cowbird; Dr. Friedmann (1938) records only two such cases; the 
entrance to its nest is generally too small for the cowbird to enter. 

Fred Mallery Packard sends me the following note from Estes 
Park, Colo.: "House wrens arrive in the park early in May, to be- 
come the most abundant songster of the pines and aspens through the 
Transition and Lower Canadian Zones. They sing during the nesting 
season, which starts early in June ; and some sing to the end of July, 
when most of the young of the second brood are fledged. They ap- 
pear to depart early — late in August and early in September— -but 
there is one October record." 


According to Dr. Oberholser's (1934) description, this subspecies 
is similar to the eastern house wren, "but upper parts darker, much 
less rufescent (more sooty or grayish) ; the sides and flanks less rufes- 
cent (more grayish) ; rest of lower surface more grayish (less buffy) ." 
He says that "this is the darkest of the forms of Troglodytes domesti- 
cus. It is always less rufescent than Troglodytes domesticus domesti- 
cus, but it has not only a dark sooty phase of plumage, but also a lighter, 
more grayish phase that more approaches Troglodytes domesticiis 
parhmanii. This latter phase is apparently not to be regarded merely 
as a manifestation of intergradation, since it appears in all parts of the 
range of Troglodytes domesticus haldwinV 

It breeds from central Quebec, southeastern Ontario, and Michigan 
south to Kentucky and western Virginia. It migrates in fall and 
winter to southern Texas and Florida. 




While they were in Arizona, in 1945, Dr. H. C. Oberholser and Dr. 
Herbert Brandt wrote enthusiastic letters to me about their dis- 
covery of a new bird, its nest, eggs, and young, that would be an addi- 
tion to the North American list. But I had to wait some time before 
they gave me the full particulars, which have now been published. 
The bird that they discovered was a Mexican species of wren, which 
they found to be commoner than expected in a region where more orni- 
thological work has been done than in any other section of Arizona. 
Previous workei-s, including the writer, had overlooked it because of its 
resemblance to the well-known house wren, to which it is quite closely 
related. While Frank Willard and I were collecting in the Huachuca 
Mountains, on May 28, 1922, we took a set of six eggs that we supposed 
belonged to a western house wren ; the nest was about 30 feet from the 
ground in a knothole in a large oak at about 7,000 feet elevation ; we 
noticed that the eggs looked different from house wren's eggs, being 
more sparingly marked, as described by Dr. Brandt; the eggs went 
into Mr. Willard's collection, and I do not know where they are now. 
Perhaps we missed the chance to make this interesting discovery ! 

In naming this wren as a new subspecies, in honor of Dr. Charles 
T. Vorhies, of the University of Arizona, Dr. Brandt (1945) describes 
it as "similar to Troglodytes hrwnneicollis cahooni Brewster, from the 
plateau of northwestern Mexico in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, 


but duller and more grayish (less buffy) particularly on the under 
parts." He gives as its range ''the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains 
of Arizona and southward for an undetermined distance." 

Dr. Brandt (1945) gives the following interesting account of its 
discovery and its nesting habits : 

At an elevation of some 7,200 feet, in one of tlie main defiles of Major John 
Healy's Carr Canyon Ranch, in the Huachuca Mountains, on June 6, 1945, I 
detected a feathered flash leaving the opposite side of a large ash when I 
"squeaked" and scraped its rough bark. This tree was growing at the stream-bed, 
so I climbed the adjacent abrupt slope, to a level of the upper half of the tree. 

Before long the bird appeared and nervously entered a natural cavity, which 
proved to be its nest, but quickly departed. The next time it returned, I was able 
to obtain a good view of it with 8-power glasses, and, although it had the general 
behavior and appearance of a House Wren, yet there was a decided buff stripe 
above the eye. 

His familiarity with the song of the eastern house wren enabled him 
to recognize a difference in the song of this bird, and so they decided 
to investigate further. As the nest was 16 feet from the ground in the 
main trunk of a solid tree, it was necessary to postpone further work 
on it until the next day with the proper equipment. 

The next morning, June 7, Nelson Carpenter, with boldness and extreme diflj- 
culty, chopped through the 10-inch living trunk to the nest, and removed five 
incubated eggs, which appeared about a third smaller and more sparingly marked 
than those of the House Wren. Jleanwhile, Lyndon Hargrave skillfully collected 
both shy parents, and we realized that we had an avian find. Doctor Oberholser 
at once pronounced the birds Gaboon's Wrens (Troglodytes irunneicolUs 
cahooni), a most remarkable memory feat, as he had not studied this Mexican 
species in nearly 40 yeai's. 

A second nest of this bird I discovered on June 8, several miles away in 
another canyon of the range, also at an elevation of 7,200 feet. Its presence was 
suspected as the result of a male's singing, and later a bird was seen entering a 
natural cavity in a tall, upright branch of an ash, 35 feet up, which proved to be 
in a position too unsafe to climb. * * * 

All nests discovered were situated at an elevation of between 7,000 and 7,300 
feet, in well-wooded canyon bottoms of the Transition Life Zone, and were in a 
region where the Western House Wren was absent, although higher up the latter 
is not uncommon. Below 6,000 feet, Baird's Wren (Thryomanes betcickii 
eremophilus) is often encountered. 

Since the above was published. Dr. Brandt has sent me a reproduc- 
tion of a photograph, showing the nest and jfive eggs, and specimens of 
a pair of adults and four young of different ages of the Apache wren. 
On the back of this is printed the following description of the nest : 
"The nest was in a small cavity of an ash tree and was a cozy cradle 
of colorful bird feathers, placed on a bed of pine needles. The eggs 
are more like the warbler tribe than those of the House Wren, and are 
smaller than the latter." 




Plates 29, 30 


Although the winter wren breeds in suitable localities in some of 
the northern States, from western Massachusetts to central Minne- 
sota, and as far south in the Alleghenies as northern Georgia, it is 
usually found there in only limited numbers. To many of us it is 
known only as a migrant, a furtive little mite, the smallest of its 
tribe, creeping mouselike about our wood piles or brush heaps, under 
the overhanging roots of trees along some woodland stream, or under 
the banks of marshland ditches. To see it, or rather to hear its 
tinkling, rippling song, to best advantage, we must visit its summer 
haunts in the cool, shady northern forests, where the sunshine hardly 
penetrates, where rotting stumps and fallen tree trunks are thickly 
covered with soft mosses, where dampness pervades the atmosphere 
near babbling woodland brooks, and where a luxuriant growth of 
ferns springs from the accumulation of rich leaf mold to nearly 
hide the forest floor. Here it finds a safe retreat from prying eyes, 
where its dark color, diminutive size, and retiring habits make it 
hard to find, until we hear its remarkable voice announcing its 

Henry Nehrling (1893) says that "in the Alleghenies where our 
most magnificent shrubs, rhododendrons, mountain laurel or kalmias 
and different azaleas fringe the streams and brooks and often cover 
whole mountain sides, lending to them an indescribable charm, this 
bird appears to take up its abode everywhere." 

Even on its breeding grounds this wren is sometimes seen in more 
open places; William Brewster (1938) has seen one among large 
boulders at the very edge of the water at Lake Umbagog and among 
the tall grass on the lake shore. 

Spring. — The winter range of this wren is so extensive, from New 
England to Florida, and the birds are so widely scattered at that 
season, that the spring migration is not conspicuous. Those that 
spend a short winter in the Southern States start early to join their 
companions that have wintered farther north. There is a gradual 
and a leisurely northward movement, as the birds drift along from 
bush to bush, through one gully after another, through woodland 
underbrush and windfalls, along the edges of swamps, and along old 
stone walls, always under cover where possible. Only when they 
come to some wide stream or open space must they spread their tiny 
wings and speed across. 

They mostly pass unobserved, until we hear the fine silver thread 


of their delightful music and stop to seek them out. They follow 
close on the heels of retreating winter, waiting not for the full flush 
of springtime, and reach their breeding grounds in southern Canada 
fairly early in April, often while the ground is still frozen or cov- 
ered with snow, and are soon singing merrily in their woodland 

Miss Cordelia J. Stanwood (MS.) writes of the arrival of this 
wren in Maine: "About the middle of April, when the blossoming 
willows look like yellow flames amid the somber sprout growths and 
the last snow wraith has slowly transformed itself into a tinkling 
rill, the winter wren, the Spirit of the Brooks, is abroad. No one 
who has heard him sing will dispute the right of the little red- 
brown bird to this appellation." 

Nesting. — I have never been fortunate enough to find a nest of the 
winter wren in its typical northern haunts, but I believe I have seen 
the only nest ever recorded in southeastern New England. Although 
tliis has already been recorded by one of the two men that were with 
me at the time (Hathaway, 1913), it seems worth while to describe 
it and its immediate surroundings, which, though out of its normal 
range geographically, were evidently suitable and congenial. 

On May 24, 1908, Harry S. Hathaway, John H. Flanagan, and I 
'svere exploring the southwestern comer of Kingston Swamp in Rhode 
Island, searching especially for nests of the waterthrushes. This is 
a large, heavily wooded swamp ; the portion that we visited was covered 
with a heavy, primeval deciduous forest, a cool and shady retreat, 
the dense foliage of the large trees shutting out the sunlight; the 
atmosphere was cooled by a steady flow of clear, cold spring water, 
about ankle deep nearly everywhere and in many places nearly knee 
deep; the current was perceptible all over the swamp, and in many 
places it was quite swift. The principal tree growth consisted of 
maples and swamp white oaks, many of which were of very large 
size ; there were also many red oaks, beeches, white and yellow birches, 
ashes, a few solitary white and yellow pines, and some fine specimens 
of hollies. There was an undergi'owth of saplings and shrubs, with 
numerous brakes and other ferns in the drier spots. The shade and 
dampness produced the conditions that the winter wren seems to 

We had found a nest of the Louisiana waterthrush in the lower 
right corner of the upturned roots of a large fallen tree ; the exposed 
roots were 5 or 6 feet in diameter, and the tree in falling had left 
a hole full of water more than knee deep. ^Vhile we were photograph- 
ing this nest, we were surprised to see a winter wren hopping about 
near the tree, with food in her bill. We withdrew to watch and soon 
saw her go to the same root and enter a small cavity, that we had not 

758066 — i8 11 


noticed, in the soil adhering to the roots. The nesting cavity was 
about 3 feet above the water in the upper left comer of the root and 
only 4 feet from the nest of the waterthrush. Here was a bird of the 
Carolinian fauna and one of the Canadian fauna nesting in the same 
stump, each near the extreme limit of its range ! Furthermore, only 
a few yards away was an occupied nest of the northern waterthrush, 
a most interesting combination. 

The front of the cavity, in which the wren's nest was built, was 
completely filled with sphagimm moss, green but partially dry; the 
nest was made of soft grasses, reinforced with weed stems, fine twigs, 
and rootlets; it was lined with white hair, which we concluded must 
have come from a white-tailed deer, several wisps of which we found 
hanging in the woods. The nest contained six young, which we 
thought were about a week old. We saw the bird come to the nest 
again and feed the young with a large white caterpillar, while we 
were within 15 feet of her. Then she cleaned the nest and flew off 
with a white sack of excrement. 

The upturned roots of fallen trees offer favorite nesting sites for 
these wrens, for when the tree falls the roots carry up with them large 
quantities of earth, in which many convenient cavities may be found. 
All six of the nests recorded in Owen Durfee's notes from northern 
New Hampshire were in upturned roots. Among 35 nests of which 
I have descriptions, 18 were in the upturned roots of fallen trees, 
evidently a favorite choice. Seven nests were recorded as in or under 
rotten stumps, or under the roots of trees; in such situations the 
nests are well concealed, for old stumps and roots are usually covered 
with a luxuriant growth of moss, which matches perfectly the material 
with which the outer part of the nest is made; the small entrance 
hole is not easily seen and the nest resembles any other mossy mound. 
A^erdi Burtch has sent me a photograph of a nest that was concealed 
in the roots of a tree overhanging a gully bank. 

Although the nests are usually placed on or near the ground, well 
concealed, some few have been reported in other situations. There is 
a set of eggs in my collection, taken by E. H. Montgomery in Labrador 
from an old hole of a woodpecker, 8 feet from the ground. F. H. 
Kennard mentions in his notes a nest that was "placed in a roll of 
bark on the side of a huge yellow birch, about 5 feet from the ground." 
Ora W. Knight (1908) says that the nests are "sometimes suspended 
from the branches of a spruce or fir tree even as high as ten feet from 
the ground. While these tree nests are more frequently the 'mock' 
nests, they sometimes lay in one of these and rear their brood." Harry 
Piers (1898) found a nest near Halifax, Nova Scotia, in an unusual 
location: "It was simply a cavity in moss, in situ upon the face of a 
rock close to the shore of a small lake. This moss was constantly satu- 
rated with water which trickled from a bank above and slowly flowed 


over the stone on which the moss grew." Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway 
(1874) mention a nest, found by William F. Hall in Maine, that was 
"built in an unoccupied log-hut, among the fir-leaves and mosses in 
a crevice between the logs. It was large and bulky, composed ex- 
ternally of mosses and lined with the fur of hedge-hogs, and the 
feathers of the spruce partridge and other birds. It was in the shape 
of a pouch, and the entrance was neatly framed with fine pine sticks." 

The nests are all much alike in construction ; there is usually a base 
of fine twigs and coarse mosses, on which a bulky nest of various green 
and yellow mosses is built, reinforced with a few fine twigs of spruce 
or fir ; the interior is well lined with the soft feathers of various birds 
and the fur of any mammal that is available. Knight (1908) gives 
the measurements of a nest before him as "outside from top to bottom 
7 inches; depth of cavity inside 2 inches; diameter of entrance hole 
1 inch ; diameter of interior of nest IVi inches ; from bottom of entrance 
hole to bottom of nest outside 4 inches; diameter of nest outside 4 
inches." This was evidently a long and narrow nest; the size and 
shape of the nest varies considerably as it must be adapted to the 
cavity it has to fill ; but it is always a large nest for so small a bird ; 
and always the entrance on the side is only just large enough to admit 
the little owner. Like some other wrens, the winter wren builds false 
nests, decoy nests, or extra nests, supposed to be built by the male; 
these are usually not lined. 

Eggs. — Four to seven eggs may constitute the set for the winter 
wren, but five or six are commoner. They are usually ovate in shape, 
less rounded than those of the chickadees, which they otherwise some- 
what resemble. They are clear white, with small spots and fine dots 
of pale reddish brown, "cinnamon" to "hazel," which are distributed 
more thickly, as a rule, near the larger end. Some eggs are very spar- 
ingly marked with the finest of dots, or are nearly immaculate. The 
measurements of 40 eggs average 16.7 by 12.5 millimeters; the eggs 
showing the four extremes measures 17.8 by 12.7, 16-7 by 13.0, 15.2 by 
12.7, and 15.7 by 11.9 millimeters. 

Toimg.- — The period of incubation for the winter wren does not seem 
to have been definitely determined, though it is probably the same as 
for the English bird, 14 to 16 days. Whether both sexes share this 
duty seems to be unknown also, but this is not surprising as it is so 
difficult to distinguish the sexes in life. Early and late breeding dates 
suggest that sometimes two broods are reared in a season. 

William Brewster ( 1938 ) writes : "A brood of young scarce able 
to fly came about the camp this forenoon [Aug. 31] . They kept calling 
to one another as they dodged in and out among the fallen logs uttering 
a fine, wiry tree-e-e something like that of the small spotted thrushes. 
When I disturbed and scattered them they chirruped at me in soft 
tones. This chirrup is unlike any other bird call that I can remember. 


I think it is peculiar to the young as the tree-e-e- certainly is. An old 
bird with this brood called tick^ tick.'''' 

Perley M. Silloway (1923) says of the behavior of the young: "It 
is interesting to watch these youngsters when disturbed. They scatter 
like young Bob- whites, some crouching in the sparse ground cover, 
while others may seek higher shelter. One was noticed clinging to the 
bare bark near the base of a large tree, like a growth on the bark, silent 
and watchful, seeking to avoid detection while the adults were scolding 
forcibly under cover near by and trying to draw the brood from the 
threatened danger." 

Miss Stanwood has sent me some very elaborate notes, based on her 
extensive observations on two nests of the winter wren, from which 
the following information has been gleaned. Apparently the male 
takes no part in building the nest, in incubating the eggs, or in feeding 
the young while they are in the nest, though he encourages his mate 
by singing his most glorious songs in the immediate vicinity. He 
frequently approaches the nest in full song, calls the female off the 
nest and feeds her ; he may, also, occasionally feed her while she is on 
the nest. He, apparently, assists in the care of the young after they 
leave the nest and while the family keeps together for some time. 

The female feeds the young at frequent intervals ; a large number 
of observations indicate that the young are usually fed at intervals 
varying from 2 to 5 minutes but often as frequently as once a minute ; 
rarely the intervals between feedings were as much as 10 or 15 minutes. 
The feedings continue from dawn to dusk but are most frequent during 
the early morning hours. The food given to the young, as far as could 
be determined, consisted of moths, including spruce-bud moths and 
tan geometrid moths, craneflies, cutworms, caterpillars of various 
kinds, numerous small insects, and spiders. The female removes the 
fecal sacs as often as necessary, until the young are large enough to 
back up to the nest entrance and shoot their excrement over the edge. 
She broods the small young occasionally for periods of 2 or 3 minutes. 

At one nest the young left when they were about 19 days old. "They 
had a soft, abrupt zee food call, which was very pretty and uttered con- 
stantly." They traveled about in a loose family party, often passing 
close to the observer but paying no attention to her. 

Plumages. — The natal down, with which the nestling is only scantily 
covered on the dorsal feather tracts, is between "drab" and "hair 
brown" ; in a young bird, about half grown, that I took from the nest 
referred to above, the last of this down still persists on the crown, where 
it is more than a quarter of an inch long. On this bird the juvenal 
plumage was well out, on the dorsal and ventral tracts ; on the former 
it is "russet," barred with dusky, on the flanks "sayal brown," and on the 
breast pale buff, barred or mottled with dusky ; the wing feathers were 
just beginning to break their sheaths. Dwight's (1900) description of 


a bird in full juvenal plumage is similar, but he adds : "Wings darker 
and tail ruddier, both duskily barred, alternating on the outer prima- 
ries with pale butf, the coverts with whitish terminal dots. * * * 
Flanks and crissum deep russet. Orbital ring and faint superciliary 
line dull buff." 

A partial postjuvenal molt occurs, beginning about the middle of 
August, involving the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not 
the rest of the wings or the tail ; in the first winter plumage adults and 
young are practically indistinguishable. Adults have a complete post- 
nuptial molt in August but apparently no spring molt. The sexes are 
alike in all plumages. 

Food. — The winter wren is almost wholly insectivorous, and it is 
especially useful in consuming many of the woodland insects and their 
larvae which are more or less injurious to our forests. W. L. McAtee 
(1926a) writes: "Vegetable food is of practically no interest to the 
winter wren ; the bird wants flesh and its choice of meat most commonly 
strikes upon such creatures as the beetles, true bugs, spiders, cater- 
pillars, and ants and other small hymenoptera. By contrast grass- 
hoppers, crickets, crane flies, moths, millipeds, and snails are minor 
items of food, and dragon flies, daddy-longlegs, mites, pseudoscorpions, 
and sowbugs are merely tasted. Forest insects consumed are bark 
beetles and other weevils, round-headed wood borers, leaf beetles, leaf 
hoppers, plant lice, lace bugs, ants, sawflies, and caterpillars." 

Arthur H. Howell (1924) says that, in the South, "the bird has been 
known to capture boll weevils." And E. H. Forbush ( 1929 ) writes : 
"The winter wren feeds along the banks of streams, frequently pecking 
at something in the water, and sometimes in its eagerness to secure its 
prey, it immerses the whole head. It may thus secure water insects. 
Miss Mabel E. Wiggins informed me that at East Marion, Long Island, 
N. y., on October 20, 1918, winter wrens were feeding on the berries of 
the Virginia juniper or red cedar." 

Beluwior. — The winter wren is a secretive little mite, the smallest 
of our wrens with the exception of the short-billed marsh wren. Be- 
cause of its retiring habits, it is often overlooked and is probably more 
common than most of us realize, for it does not advertise itself in the 
tree tops or pose to pour out its delicious song from some conspicuous 
perch as so many songsters do. We must look for it, if we would 
find it, in its lowly retreats near the ground, in the tangles along 
old stone walls, in the brush piles, and about fallen trees, prostrate 
logs, and wood piles. But it is really not shy and often quite indif- 
ferent to human presence. If we sit or stand quite still near its re- 
treat, we may see it hop up to some twig near us, perhaps within a 
few feet of us, bobbing or bouncing up and down, flirting its short 
tail, and eyeing us inquisitively, but fearlessly. Edward J. F. Marx 
(1916) tells of one that actually alighted on the side of his coat while 


he was standing motionless, clad in a brown suit; it may have mis- 
taken him for a tree. 

Taverner and Swales (1908) write of one that made itself familiar 
on their last day in camp at Point Pelee : "This last day one fellow 
became much interested in our tent and camping equipment. It ex- 
plored the former several times thoroughly, searching every crevice. 
It examined our methods of packing, and sampled the crumbs of our 
commissary, gleaning from the cracks of the table, and seemed gen- 
erally pleased with himself and us. Finally it flew to a neighboring 
brush pile and scolded us as we took down the tent and piled the 
things into the wagon." 

Although this wren may approach us fearlessly of its own free 
will, it is another matter for us to find it in its sylvan retreats. Its 
glorious song may lure us to catch a glimpse of the singer, but as 
we push our way through the forest tangles, the voice seems to re- 
treat before us; it leads us on, now here now there, but it always 
seems to come from somewhere else, and we are lucky if we catch 
a fleeting glimpse of the little brown bird. 

One seldom sees a winter wren in open flight, but Wendell Taber 
(MS.) was favored with the following observation: "The bird was 
in a clump of catbrier at the top of a bank that shelved rapidly about 
20 feet down to the Ipswich River. Ultimately the wren rose up in 
the air, but instead of heading inland and flying low it went out over 
the river and downriver imtil lost to view, flying at an altitude of 
35 to 40 feet above the river and marshes. Shortly after the wren 
had attained its maxinmm height and started downriver, a bird came 
and pursued it until both were out of sight. The latter bird was not 
identified but was assumed to be a redwing." This was on April 30, 
which suggests that the wren was probably on migration ; the redwing 
may have been chasing what it mistook for a marsh wren, with which 
it is not on good terms. 

Taber (MS.) and Richard Stackpole "watched a winter wren that 
seemed to have a regular route it covered. We were facing the open 
door of a barn. The narrow end of the barn was only a few feet to 
the left of the door and a brook paralleled the narrow end. We would 
see the wren disappear behind the barn, come out the open door, fly 
to its right to the brook, work the few yards down the brook, dis- 
appear behind the barn, and come out the open door again. The 
wren did this several times." 

Voice. — The winter wren owes most of its charm and much of its 
claim to fame to its wonderful voice. Its charming song is a marvelous 
performance for such a tiny bird. To hear it coming from the shady 
depths of the northern forests is a delightful surprise, almost startling 
amid the silence of those dark sylvan aisles. Its variety is entrancing ; 
the full rich song fairly bursts upon the ear with a tinge of nature's 


wildness; and again, at close range we hear the soft whisper song, a 
subdued rendering of the same trills and cadences ; we cannot place the 
singer, the music seems to come from everywhere, but we stand 
amazed and thrilled. 

Bradford Torrey (1885) writes: "The great distinction of the win- 
ter wren's melody is its marked rhythm and accent, which give it a 
martial, fife-like character. Note tumbles over note in the true wren 
manner, and the strain comes to an end so suddenly that for the first 
few times you are likely to think that the bird has been interrupted. 
* * * The song is intrinsically one of the most beautiful." 

Rev. J. H. Langille (1884) refers to it: "Copious, rapid, prolonged 
and penetrating, having a great variety of the sweetest tones, and 
uttered in a rising and falling or finely undulating melody, from every 
region of these 'dim isles' this song calls forth the sweetest woodland 
echo. It seems as if the very atmosphere became resonant. I stand 
entranced and amazed, my very soul vibrating to this gushing melody, 
which seems at once expressive of the wildest joy and the tenderest 

Aretas A. Saunders (1929b) analyzes the song as follows : "There is 
usually a long trill in the middle of it, which is followed by a short 
note of lower pitch. I found that the majority of the songs were of 
three parts, the first ending with the trill and its short note; the 
second was a repetition of the first ; and the third, a sort of termination 
in which there were usually no trills. The notes follow each other so 
rapidly that it is hard to catch them all, but there are often 30 to 50 
notes, in addition to the trills, in a single song." 

Albert R. Brand (1935 and 1938) made careful studies of the songs 
of many birds by recording bird sound on motion-picture film, giving 
us much valuable information on the subject. He found, on his two 
records of the winter wren's song, that the length of the song varied 
from 6.72 to 7.17 seconds, as against less than 2.5 seconds for the song 
of the song sparrow; the wren's song contained from 106 to 113 
separate notes, compared with 35 or 36 for the sparrow. "Two songs 
of the Winter Wren studied under the microscope show that an average 
of 16 distinct notes with a corresponding number of distinct stops 
were produced each second" (1935). He also found that the wren's 
song is very high in frequency, or pitch, exceeded only by the grass- 
hopper sparrow and a few other birds, mostly warblers. The grass- 
hopper sparrow, with one of the highest notes recorded, has an average 
frequency of 8,600 cycles, or vibrations, per second and a maximum of 
9,500. The winter wren has an average frequency of 5,000 cycles and a 
maximum of 8,775 in its highest note. Out of some 55 birds that he 
lists only 12 have a higher average frequency than the winter wren. 

The active song period of the winter wren extends through spring 
and through much of summer, up to the first week in August or later. 


It is rarely heard singing on the fall migration, or even in winter. In 
its breeding haunts it sings all day and occasionally into the evening. 
In addition to its song it has a variety of chirping notes or alarm notes, 
which have been recorded as churp^ or chick^ or crrrrip by different 
observers. Saunders (1929a) says: "Its alarm note may be written 
'trrip' or 'tree'. Another note has been written 'quip-quap'." 

Since the above was written, Mr. Saunders has sent me the follow- 
ing additional notes on the song : 'The song consists of warbles, rapid 
notes, and trills interspersed in a great variety of ways. Every 
song I have recorded contains at least one trill and commonly two or 
three. Only one contains more than four, but that one contains eight. 
In 13 of my records the song ends on its highest note, often terminat- 
ing in a series of rapid notes, so high that they lose their sweet quality 
and become squeaky. 

"My records show the lowest-pitched note to be D ' ' ' and the 
highest G ' ' ' ', a range of two tones more than an octave and extend- 
ing 31/^ tones higher than the highest note on the piano. The average 
song ranges 3^ tones, but some only 2 tones and one 13 tones, going 
one-half tone over the octave in range. 

"The great majority of songs are 8 seconds long, or very near it. 
I have one of nine seconds, and several shorter ones, the shortest be- 
ing five seconds. But even this one is considerably longer than most 
bird songs, if we except the long-continued singers. Songs often con- 
tain short pauses. Some of them, however, according to my ear, are 
continuous throughout, while others contain two or three pauses and 
others 20 or 25." 

Wendell Taber tells me that he "watched a winter wren singing. 
At first the bill is open and moves somewhat, then the bill is stretched 
unbelievably wide open, and the full last half, or more, of the song 
pours out with all its many variations of notes, during which period 
the bill remains motionless." 

Francis H. Allen (MS.) mentions two notes of the adult, a chrrrr 
with a rising inflection, and a call, or alarm note chut very suggestive 
of the song sparrow's familiar note, but repeated once or twice, 
whereas the sparrow's is single ; he calls the note of the young chi-chi- 
chi-chi^ etc., "suggesting a miniature belted kingfisher." 

Field marks. — The winter wren and the short-billed marsh wren 
are the smallest wrens, both among the smallest of birds in eastern 
North America, but the former is much darker and has a much shorter 
tail, which is often carried erect or even pointed forward, and the 
light line over the eye is not very conspicuous. The bobbing habit 
of the winter wren is characteristic. 

Enemies. — Mi'. Forbush (1929) reports thp following incident, 
which seems rather unusual ; he says : "Mrs. Mary P. Hall writes that 
on September 30, 1926, she saw several winter wrens very much ex- 


cited about something. They hardly noticed her, and as she came 
near she saw a chipmunk running with a bird in its mouth. The little 
squirrel sprang from the stone wall and went up a tree, dropping the 
bird as it did so. She picked up the victim, a winter wren." 

Fall and winter. — This little wren may have derived its name from 
the fact that a few hardy individuals venture to spend the winter in 
the northern States and even occasionally in southern Ontario. Dur- 
ing mild winters they manage to make a fair living in the more sheltered 
places, but in severe winters many of them may perish from hunger 
and cold, especially when their meager food supply is buried under a 
blanket of deep snow. Mr. Forbush (1929) says that their dead 
bodies are found occasionally under piles of lumber or wood. Dr. 
John B. May told him that, at his summer camp in New Hampshire, 
"on two different occasions winter wrens entered his camp buildings 
through knot-holes in the walls, and, unable to find their w^ay out 
again, perished, their shriveled bodies being found in the buildings 
the next spring." 

In January 1871, Mr. Brewster (1906) "found one in Waltham 
(Mass.), that had taken up its abode in an old, disused barn which 
it entered by means of a conveniently placed knothole and from 
which it made short excursions in search of food along a neigh- 
boring wall." 

Most of the wrens, however, migrate southward during the fall. 
We look for them in Massachusetts during the first cold weather in 
October. At this season they are often seen in the more open places and 
in some unexpected situations. They are occasionally seen about 
houses and gardens in towns and villages, and they even wander into 
the cities. I have seen one in my yard in the center of the city of 
Taunton, within a hundred yards of brick buildings. And Mr. Brew- 
ster (1906) reports one that was discovered, on October 15, 1899, 
"crouching in the shelter of one of the massive granite columns which 
support the front of the Boston Custom House." 

In the southern Alleghenies there is a downward migration from 
the coniferous forests on the mountain tops late in fall. Keferring 
to Mount Mitchell, in western North Carolina, Thomas D. Burleigh 
(1941) says of the winter wren: "Breeding abundantly in the thick 
fir and spruce woods at the top of the mountain this hardy little 
bird lingers in the fall until winter blizzards force it to a lower 
altitude. The first hint of milder weather sees its reappearance, so 
for 10 months out of the average year it can be found on the higher 
ridges. Exceptional winter will influence its movements to a certain 
extent, but it can invariably be seen on Mt. Mitchell from the latter 
part of March until the middle of November, and has been recorded 
there as early as February 6, 1931, and as late as December 6, 1932." 

Dr. Eugene E. Murphey (1937), writing of its haunts in the 


middle Savannah Valley, says: "In many places throughout the 
valley, cypress and hardwood have been logged out, leaving behind 
scattered deciduous trees and a vast array of stumps about four feet 
in height which are overgrown with matted vines and brambles and 
a fairly thick growth of ground-loving and creeping plants, in- 
cluding many ferns. Here the Winter Wren spends his sojourn." 
M. G. Vaiden, of Rosedale, Miss., writes to me that this wren seems 
to be from "fairly to very common here during winter in suitable 
localities, such as dry open woods." Throughout the other Gulf 
States and northern Florida, the winter wren frequents mainly the 
brushy woodlands and is very quiet and retiring in its habits. While 
Arthur H. Howell (1924) was hunting geese on an island near Muscle 
Shoals, "one of these little wrens also spent the day there, dodging 
about in a pile of brush and running in and out of a log pile. He 
scarcely moved 10 feet all day and often came within 3 or 4 feet 
of" Mr. Howell's face without showing any signs of alarm. 


Range. — In America from just north of latitude 60° south almost to 
the southern limits of the United States. 

Breeding range. — The winter wren breeds north to Alaska (Aleu- 
tian Islands, Pribilofs, and Kodiak Island) ; southern Mackenzie 
(Great Slave Lake) ; southern Manitoba (Hillside Beach) ; northern 
Ontario (Lac Seul, Moose Factory, and Lake Abitibi, probably) ; 
southern Quebec (upper St. Maurice River and Godbout) ; and New- 
foundland (Bard Harbor). East to Newfoundland (Bard Harbor 
and Nicholsville) ; Nova Scotia (Halifax and Seal Island) ; northern 
Massachusetts (Winchendon) ; Rhode Island (Kingston) ; New York 
(Adirondack and Catskill Mountains) ; and through the mountains 
to northern Georgia (Brasstown Bald). South to northern Georgia 
(Brasstown Bald) ; western Maryland (Accident) ; northern Michi- 
gan (Douglas Lake, Blaney, and Palmer) ; northern Minnesota 
(Onamia and Cass Lake) ; northwestern Montana (Flathead Lake) ; 
northern Idaho (Coeur d'Alene) ; and southern California (Porters- 
ville). West to California (Portersville) and north through the 
Sierra Nevada and the coastal ranges of California, Oregon, Wash- 
ington, and British Columbia to Alaska (Aleutian and Pribilof 

Winter range. — The winter range is discontinuous. The western 
range extends north to southeastern Alaska (Craig and Juneau cas- 
ually) ; and southern British Columbia (Comox and Okanagan Land- 
ing). East to southern British Columbia (Okanagan Landing) 
through western Washington (Olympia and Camas) ; western Oregon 


(Beaverton and Sweet Home) ; and the Sierra Nevada in California. 
South to southern California (Santa Barbara and San Dimas Can- 
yon) ; and west to the Pacific Ocean. 

The eastern section of the winter range extends north to southeast- 
ern Nebraska (Hastings and Omaha) ; central Missouri (Warrens- 
burg and St. Louis) ; Ohio (Toledo and Cleveland) ; southern Ontario 
(Toronto) ; Connecticut (Hartford) ; and Massachusetts (Taunton). 
East to Massachusetts (Taunton and Woods Hole) ; and through the 
Atlantic coast States southward to Florida (New Smyrna). South 
to central Florida (New Smyrna, Orlando, and casually to St. Lucie) ; 
the Gulf coast to eastern Texas (Giddings and Victoria). West to 
eastern Texas (Giddings and Bonham) ; eastern Oklahoma (Caddo) ; 
eastern Kansas (Clearwater and Manhattan) ; and eastern Nebraska 

The above range applies to the entire species in North America. It 
has been broken up into 10 subspecies or geographical races. The 
eastern winter wren (T. t. hiemalis) breeds from southern Alberta and 
Minnesota east to the Atlantic coast and south to West Virginia. The 
southern winter wren {T. t. pullus) occurs in the southern Appala- 
chians from Virginia to Georgia. The western winter wren {T. t. pa- 
cificus) breeds from Prince William Sound, Alaska, east to northern 
Alberta, and from central California east to the Kocky Mountains. 
Six races have been described from Alaska : the Aleutian wren ( T. t. 
meligerus) on Attn at the extreme western end; the Kiska wren {T. t. 
kiskensis) on Kiska and Little Kiska Islands; the Alaska wren {T. t. 
alascensis) on the Pribilof Islands ; the Tanaga wren {T. t. tanagensis) 
on Tanaga and probably adjacent islands; Stevenson's winter wren 
( T. t. stevensoni) on Amak and Amagat Island ; the Unalaska wren 
{T. t. 'petrophilus) on Unalaska, Amaknak, and Akutan Islands; the 
Semidi wren {T. t. semidiensis) on the Semidi Islands ; and the Kodiak 
wren {T. t. helleri) on Kodiak Island. 

Spring migration. — Some late dates of spring departure are : Flor- 
ida — Orlando, March 10. Georgia — Athens, April 14. Mississippi — 
Biloxi, April 16. Louisiana — New Orleans, April 7. North Caro- 
lina — Kaleigh, April 21. Virginia — ^Lynchburg, April 20. District of 
Columbia — ^Washington, May 1. Maryland — Hagerstown, April 10. 
Tennessee — Knoxville, May 1. Kentucky — Bowling Green, May 3. 
Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh, April 20. New Jersey — Elizabeth, April 

Early dates of spring arrival are : Pennsylvania — Harrisburg, April 
5. New Jersey — Elizabeth, March 5. New York — Plattsburg, April 
1. Vermont — ^Woodstock, March 30. Maine — Presque Isle, April 17. 
New Brunswick — Scotch Lake, March 29. Nova Scotia — Wolfville. 
May 3. Quebec — Quebec, May 6. Ohio — Columbus, March 30. Indi- 


ana — Lafayette, March 17. Illinois — Chicago, April 8. Ontario — 
Toronto, April 6. Michigan — Sault Ste. Marie, April 15. Iowa — 
Davenport, March 31. Wisconsin — Sheboygan, March 25. Minne- 
sota — Minneapolis, April 5. South Dakota — Faulkton, April 10. 
Manitoba — ^Winnipeg, April 19. Montana — Fortine, April 23. Brit- 
ish Columbia — Okanagan Landing, March 16. 

Fall migration. — ^Late dates of fall departure are : British Colum- 
bia — Okanagan Landing, November 9. Montana — Fortine, October 9. 
South Dakota — Faulkton, October 5. Minnesota — St. Paul, October 
18. Wisconsin — Madison, October 30. Iowa — Sioux City, October 5. 
Michigan — Sault Ste. Marie, October 11. Ontario — Ottawa, Novem- 
ber 1. Illinois — Glen Ellyn, October 25. Indiana — Fort Wayne, Oc- 
tober 29, Quebec — Montreal, October 27. New Brunswick — St. John, 
October 12. Maine — Dover, November 5. Vermont — Kutland, Oc- 
tober 29. Massachusetts — Boston, November 4. New York — Ithaca, 
October 20. New Jersey — Morristown, November 3. Pennsylvania — 
State College, November 23. 

Early dates of fall arrival are : Maryland — Hagerstown, September 
10. District of Columbia — Washington, September 25. Virginia — 
Lexington, September 28. North Carolina — Chapel Hill, September 
23. Georgia — Atlanta, October 12. Florida — Pensacola, October 20. 
Missouri — Columbia, October 8. Kentucky — ^Lexington, October 1. 
Tennessee — Nashville, October 14. Oklahoma — Oklahoma City, No- 
vember 5. Louisiana — New Orleans, October 24. Mississippi — Biloxi, 
October 21. 

Casual records. — The winter wren has bred once in Wyoming: a 
nest containing two young ready to fly was found in the Freezeout 
Hills on July 15, 1897; birds were seen west of Fort Collins and in 
Estes Park, Colo., in July 1896, but no evidence of breeding was found. 
This species was seen in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico in 
September 1902 and at Coony, N. Mex., on December 26, 1889, the 
only records for the State ; in Arizona there are three migration rec- 
ords, two in April and one in October, and one of a specimen taken 
about 35 miles north of Fort Verde on January 6, 1887. It is an 
uncommon winter visitant to southern Utah, specimens in Zion Canyon 
on January 1, 1936, and February 1, 1942. 

Egg dates. — Alaska : 11 records. May 20 to July 23. 

California : 29 records, March 20 to July 19 ; 15 records, April 20 to 
May 12, indicating the height of the season. 

Labrador : 5 records, June 28 and 29. 

New Hampshire : 8 records, May 14 to May 21. 

Ontario : 11 records. May 18 to June 18. 

Washington : 19 records, April 15 to June 22 ; 10 records, April 22 
to May 9. 




Thomas D. Burleigh (1935) discovered and named this wren. He 
says that it is similar to the eastern winter wren, "but decidedly darker 
and less ruf escent above, the underparts lighter brown, with the ver- 
miculations of the abdomen and flanks heavier; wing longer; bill 
smaller and more slender." It breeds, he says, "in the Canadian 
Zone of the southern Appalachians from we.stern North Carolina 
(probably Virginia), to northern Georgia, occurring in winter at a 
lower altitude in this same region." 

"This southern race of the winter wren," continues Burleigh, "can 
always be easily recognized in either sex by its distinctly darker upper- 
parts, a characteristic common to other birds limited in their distribu- 
tion to this general region. Even in worn breeding plumage this 
character is at once evident." 

The .subspecies description is based on eight North Carolina speci- 
mens, five from Mount Mitchell, two from the Great Smoky Moun- 
tains, and one from Kocky Knob. 




The 1910 Check-list treated the Alaska wren, of the Pribilof Islands, 
and the Aleutian wren, of the western Aleutian Islands, as two distinct 
species and listed both as specifically distinct from the winter wrens 
from other parts of North America. A thorough .study of all the Old 
World and New World forms of the genus Nannus, by Dr. Harry C. 
Oberholser (1919), has demonstrated that all the North American 
forms of this genus are only subspecifically distinct; furthermore, he 
claims that these, and all the Old World forms as well, are all subspecie^s 
of the Old World species Nannus troglodytes. The f ramers of our 1931 
Check-list evidently do not agree with this latter concept, but they do 
list all the North American forms as subspecies of Nannus hiemalis. 

The Aleutian wren {Troglodytes troglodytes meUgerus), the subject 
of this sketch, was formerly supposed to inhabit all the western Aleu- 
tian Islands, from Attn to Kiska; but now Dr. Oberholser (1919) re- 
stricts this name to the wrens of Attu Island and possibly the neigh- 
boring Agattu Island; and he names three new races for Tanaga, 
Kiska, and Unalaska Islands. He says that the Aleutian wren "is 
one of the most deeply colored of the North American forms and is 
apparently a well-ditlerentiated race." 

We found wrens of this species on all the islands we visited in the 
Aleutian Chain, from Unalaska on the eastern end to Attu in the 
west. It was one of the pleasantest surprises of our trip to find these 


delightful little songsters on these wholly treeless islands, where the 
only cover was the few stunted willows that grew in the sheltered 
hollows, or the piles of loose rocks along the shore ; they seemed quite 
out of place in such surroundings, so different from the shady forest 
haunts of the closely related eastern winter wren. We found them 
first in an inland rocky ravine along the bed of a cool mountain stream 
and again in a grassy valley where there were a few scattered rocks 
on which they could perch and pour out their rich songs, adding a 
rare charm to this cheerless wilderness. But, most surprising of all, 
we often heard the glorious, bubbling song of the winter wren coming 
from the bleak, bare, rocky shores, where loose rocks and boulders were 
piled in confusion at the bases of the cliffs, washed by cold ocean 
spray and often enveloped in dense, chilly fogs. Here he sits and sings 
his thrilling, soulful song, perched on the pinnacle of some damp rock, 
or the brancli of some drifted snag, buffeted by the gales that sweep 
down from snow-capped mountains, or drenched by frequent rain and 
snow squalls, all too prevalent in that wretched climate. He must 
have a brave and cheerful heart under his tiny coat of thick plumage. 

A. H. Clark (1945) writes: "The lively bubbling trill of the winter 
wrens, the smallest of the Aleutian birds, is a characteristic bird note 
of the islands. These vivacious and pert little creatures are common, 
always keeping close to the sea, along the high rocky shores or in the 
lower portions of the valleys, where their surprisingly loud and clear 
notes betray their presence. These wrens are variable, and several dif- 
ferent local forms are recognized in the Aleutian population." 

Nesting. — We did not succeed in finding a nest of any of the wrens 
of the Aleutian Islands, but Lucien M. Turner (1886) says: "Mating 
occurs early in May or late in April. Nidification begins immediately. 
The nest is placed in a crevice in the face of a cliff or amongst the large 
tussocks of wild rye or other grasses. The nest is large and well built ; 
coarse grasses and roots form the foundation, and as the nest nears 
completion smaller grasses are selected. The interior of the nest con- 
tains few feathers of various species of birds. The walls of the nest 
are well carried up, and in some instances form a partial roof over 
the nest, leaving a hole in one side as an entrance. Five to nine eggs 
are laid ; they are pure white in color." 

He says further, as to their habits : 

They remain on these islands during the entire year. * * ♦ Their food con- 
sists of insects, and occasionally a few seeds will be found in their crops. * * * 
Their note is a prolonged twitter of several modulations and repeated at short 
intervals. When surprised, or when they come upon an object that excites their 
curiosity, a rapid and long rattle is sounded as an alarm, soon to be answered 
by a second bird. These two keep up the sound until all the Wrens within hearing 
assemble to investigate the cause. As many as a dozen will surround the 
object, and approach so close that the outstretched hand might capture them. 
The least motion, however, disperses them so quickly that one wonders where 
they have disappeared. They, at these times, hide under the stalks of the weeds 
or grass. * * * At the approach of winter the bird becomes very familiar, 


and is frequently found on the window-sills searching for insects. On one 
occasion I heard a gentle tapping at my back window; as I had frequently 
heard the same noise, I carefully drew the curtain partly aside, and saw a Wren 
endeavoring to obtain a fly that was inside of the pane of glass. The bird did 
not appear to be disturbed by my presence. 

The above account is based on observations made on various islands 
in the xVleutian Chain, from Unalaska westward, and must not be 
construed as applying especially to the wrens of Attn Island. The 
observations were made before the species was subdivided as it is now. 




In naming this wren. Dr. Oberholser (1919) described it as similar 
to meligerus, the preceding form, "but wing, tail, and tarsus shorter; 
upper parts lighter, less rufescent (more grayish) brown, and poste- 
riorly more uniform (less distinctly barred) ; lower parts more deeply 
ochraceous, and posteriorly somewhat less heavily barred with black- 
ish." The eight specimens from Kiska Island, on which this sub- 
species is based, exhibit individual variations which suggest inter- 
gradation with both the Attn Island bird and the Unalaska bird. 

Most of the wrens of this race that we saw on Kiska Island were 
living on the shore of Kiska Harbor. A high, rocky cliff, on which a 
pair of Peale's falcons were evidently nesting, rose above a narrow 
beach strewn with masses of broken rocks and boulders, with scat- 
tered tufs of long grass growing in some places among the rocks. 
Pacific eiders were nesting among these tufts of grass, pigeon guille- 
mots had their eggs hidden far under the rocks, and on a grassy slope 
some Aleutian song sparrows were singing songs reminding us of 
home. Here the wrens were darting in and out among the rocks, 
climbing over them, or perching on their tops to sing, often bobbing 
up and down in true winter-wren fashion. Their songs were much 
like those of the eastern winter wren, but it seemed to me that they 
were louder and richer; perhaps they sounded more beautiful by 
contrast with their bleak surroundings, the rocky background, the 
pounding surf, and the cries of sea birds. 



Plate 31 


This race of the winter wren group is now supposed to be confined 
to the Pribilof Islands, on St. George and St. Paul Islands. The type, 
which was obtained by Dr. Dall on the former island, was an im- 
mature bird in its first plumage. 


Dr. Oberholser (1919) describes this race as similar to the Kiska 
bird, "but wing and tail longer ; bill decidedly, tarsus and middle toe 
without claw somewhat, shorter ; upper parts darker, more ruf escent ; 
lower parts rather more deeply ochraceous, and posteriorly with nar- 
rower, less deeply blackish bars." It seems to be subspecifically dis- 
tinct from oil the birds of the Aleutian Islands, including Unalaska. 

Dr. Nelson (1887) wrote: "One of the most peculiar facts in its 
history is its abundance on the island of St. George, which is about 180 
miles north of the Aleutian Islands, whereas, on St. Paul Island, only 
27 miles distant from St. George, and apparently suitable in every 
way for its presence, there is not a single record of its occurrence; 
and Elliott states that he searched carefully for it during his residence 
at that place." This statement could not be made truthfully today, 
for specimens have since been taken on St. Paul Island. We failed to 
find it there, but our stay was very limited; we failed to find it on 
Walrus Island in the same group, where we made a more thorough 
investigation of its wonderful bird life. 

More recently. Dr. Harold Heath (1920), who spent the greater 
part of May and the first half of June 1918 on St. George Island, 
has added much to our knowledge of this wren and its habits. As to 
its distribution on these islands he says : "Until recent years the wrens 
of the Pribilof Islands were strictly limited to the island of St. 
George. In 1915, however, six individuals were observed by Dr. 
Hanna on St. Paul Island, and of these, three were secured. None, 
so far as I now recall, have since been noted there, but in the sum- 
mer of 1918 a considerable number were seen on Otter Island, a small 
body of land 4 miles to the southward." 

In a still more recent paper, Preble and McAtee (1923) state that 
Mr. Hanna took two of his specimens on St. Paul Island on October 
29, 1914, and the third on May 16, 1915 ; he also reported that, during 
1915, George Haley saw 11 individuals on Otter Island, that they have 
since become well established there, and that they bred there in 1916, 
1917, and 1918. These authors conclude : 

It seems likely, therefore, unless the species meets with a reverse on Otter 
Island from some cause, that it will in time become regularly established as 
a breeder on St. Paul, and that, therefore, the likelihood of the species sur- 
viving will be strengthened. 

During the winter of 1916-1917 St. George was visited by an unusual num- 
ber of gyrfalcons, which preyed upon the wrens and rosy finches to such an 
extent that they were almost extirpated. G. Dallas Hanna states that in May 
1917, he found not over six pairs of wrens during a trip made entirely around 
the island. Since then, however, as elsewhere detailed, the species has be- 
come at least fairly common again and has even spread to the other main is- 
lands, previously unoccupied. 

Nesting. — It was many years after the discovery of the Alaska wren 


that its nesting habits were fully described by a competent natural- 
ist. Earlier accounts were based on reports by the natives or on nests 
and eggs collected by them. The earliest account came from Dr. 
Elliott Coues (1875) ; he quotes from the manuscript notes of Henry 
W. Elliott, who spent parts of 3 years on St. George Island, as fol- 
lows : "Its nest is built in small, deep holes and crevices in the cliffs. 
I have not myself seen it, but the natives say that it lays from 8 to 
10 eggs, in a nest made of soft, dry grass and feathers, roofed over, 
with an entrance at the side to the nest-chamber, thus being of elab- 
orate construction." 

The attempts of various naturalists, who visited the island dur- 
ing subsequent years, to find the nest of this elusive bird were not 
successful until 1918, when Dr. Heath (1920) made a special effort 
to solve the problem and succeeded in finding over 16 nests. He has 
given us the following full account of the nesting haunts of the 
Alaskan wren, the difficulties to be encountered in hunting for the 
nests, and a description of the nests : 

Throughout the summer at least, these diminutive creatures confine their 
activities to the perpendicular cliffs and the adjacent boulder-strewn beach 
where they prove to be more than usually inconspicuous, for several reasons. 
In the first place their brownish coats harmonize almost perfectly with the 
weathered basaltic rock and the encrusting lichens, and this, together with 
their habit of slipping along the face of the clifE by very short flights, or mov- 
ing mouse-like through the grass, or entering crevices of the cliff or beneath 
the beach boulders to appear again several feet distant, renders it most difficult 
to follow their movements for many minutes together. Also, during the month 
of May and the first half of June — the length of my sojourn on St. George Island — 
the weather was anything but ideal. Rain, dense fogs, or at least heavily 
overcast skies, with piercing winds and a temperature of not over 50 degrees, 
placed a heavy tax on one's powers of endurance and eyesight. Furthermore, 
the almost incessant incoming and outgoing stream of least, crested and paroquet 
auklets interpersed with kittiwakes, puffins and murres, and the movements 
of these species on the cliffs, produce a bewildering effect which tends to blot 
out minor details. * * * 

At the outset be it known that the male is almost utterly useless when 
depended upon to disclose the presence of the nest, until after the young are 
hatched. In carefree fashion he explores the cracks and crannies of the cliffs 
for half-frozen bugs and flies, or repairs to a commanding position at the upper 
margin of the cliff, where he delivers himself of his unoiled song; or tiring of 
this he flies a quarter of a mile or so along the coast to sneak back a few 
minutes later to the same old stand. In three instances only, have I seen the 
male fly to the neighborhood of the female or the nest during the building or 
incubation period, and his stay in every case was of brief duration. 

During this time the female may or may not be in evidence, and if discovered 
her activities are usually found to be essentially the same as her mate. If so — 
and an hour's watching will generally settle the matter — it is economy of effort 
to postpone the search for the nest until the morrow. 

However, if the female is in tlie midst of house building, no better time can 
be found to locate her nest for, in spite of intruders, even at a distance of a 

758066—48 12 


few feet, slie works with feverish activity and with a directness of flight that 
can scarcely escape the observation of even an untrained eye. 

Nevertheless, this period of construction is frequently interrupted by flights 
to the beach or along the cliff in search of insects, or for a period of song on some 
lofty point, or she too may dash out of sight far up the coast to return after 
a period of from 5 to 30 minutes. 

Another favorable time for the location of the nest is during the incubation 
period. Four nests under observation showed that the female remains upon 
the eggs, whatever the character of the day or the stage of incubation, for a 
period ranging from IS to 21 minutes. She then feeds from 2 to 5 minutes. 
Here also her flight is relatively direct, in marked contrast to her usual journey 
along the cliffs, and is unmistakable after a brief experience. The recorded 
habits of several other birds indicate a fairly definite daily program during the 
breeding season, but, so far as I know, none are so timed to the minute as the 
Alaska Wren. 

All of the nests discovered in 1918 were in the faces of cliffs anywhere from 
25 to 100 feet in height, and were placed at elevations varying from 8 to 100 
feet. The spot chosen may be a crevice between shattered blocks of rock, or 
in a small blowhole in the ancient lava flow, or, more frequently, underneath 
banks of moss where rain and frost have excavated cavities of tidy size. In 
three instances the nesting site had been chosen the year before, the new nest 
being built upon the remains of the old one. In my experience the nest is never 
hidden far beneath the general surface of the clitf. Of 12 nests described in 
my field notes 4 were plainly visible, while the others were merely concealed 
by an overhanging fringe of grass or moss or by a few small shattered scales of 
rock. Four other nests were placed in cracks at a considerable elevation and 
in overhanging cliffs that effectually prevented a close examination. 

The nest of the Alaska Wren is indeed a work of art, with the materials com- 
posing it bearing a definite relation to the nature of its surroundings. Generally 
speaking, it is a globular, more or less bulky affair with the entrance at one side. 
When situated in a lava bubble or in cavities where the adjacent rock is rela- 
tively dry, it usually consists of an external sheath of moss, thick or thin, ac- 
cording to the size of the space to be filled. Where the soil inclines to be soggy 
the roof alone is built of moss (at least in three instances) to absorb tlie moisture 
and prevent its precipitation upon the sitting female. Farther down, at the 
sides of the nest, it rests upon a meshwork of grass and roots that not only 
drains away the water from above, but permits of rapid drying. To determine 
the correctness of this theory a nest of this type was brought in from the field, 
and was left overnight under the slow drip from a water tap. The next morning 
the mossy roof was soaked and the grassy base adrip, but not a drop of water 
had made its way into the interior. * * * 

The lining of the nest forms a heavy feltwork of which delicate roots and fine 
filamentous lichen form the chief constituents. With these are usually associated 
the feathers of the least auklet (and other birds to a less degree), fox hairs, and 
in late years, the hair of the reindeer. 

There is a nest in the Thayer collection in Cambridge, which I 
have examined. It was collected by E. C. Crompton on St. George 
Island on May 20, 1922, taken from a crevice in the rocks of a cliff 
on the seashore, about 20 feet up. It is quite bulky, being made 
mainly of dry grasses and weed stems, mixed with green mosses and 
lichens and a few feathers; it is lined with small feathers and very 
fine white hairs. These white hairs were probably from the bleached- 


out winter coat of the blue fox ; those examined microscopically by 
Dr. Heath proved to be from this source. 

Eggs. — The six eggs that came with the above nest are ovate and 
have very little gloss. They are pure white; some are nearly, or 
quite, immaculate, but most of them are sparingly sprinkled, mainly 
about the larger end, with fine pinpoints of the palest brown. 

The earlier reports by natives that this wren lays as many as 10 
or 12 eggs should not be taken seriously ; probably the natives were 
careless or could not count accurately. Dr. Heath (1920) says: 
"In the majority of the nests examined this year the number of eggs 
laid is 7. Six may be the complement. * * * ^ young, intelli- 
gent native boy told me that he had examined several wren's nests 
during the past 10 years, and had never found more than 7 eggs 
or young." He says that the eggs "are more or less peppered with 
reddish dots." The eggs in his photograph all show these mark- 
ings plainly (pi. 31). The measurements of 34 eggs average 17.0 by 
13.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 19.0 
by 13.7, 18.0 by 14.0, 14.0 by 13.0, and 17.1 by 12.2 millimeters. 

Young. — Dr. Heath (1920) writes: "A nearly as I can judge from 
one pair of wrens, the period of incubation lasts 11 days, and the young 
in this same nest were fed for 22 days. The incubation period 
seems too short and the altricial period too long. When the eggs 
are hatched the male abandons his usual haunts, and with his mate 
collects insects from foggy morn to yet more foggy eve. Wlien this 
brood is dismissed a second one may be reared the same season. In 
1918, for example, E. C. Crompton, Government agent on St. George, 
reported to me the discovery of a nest that was left by the young 
about the middle of July. During the following week the female 
deposited a second set of eggs." 

Plumages. — Ridgway (1904) says of the young: "Essentially like 
adults, but brown of upper parts more rufescent, flanks and under 
tail-coverts less distinctly barred (bars sometimes obsolete), and 
feathers of under parts more or less distinctly margined with brown 
or dusky." Nelson (1887) says that the young "may be distinguished 
from the adult by a smoky brown shade on the sides of the head, 
chin, and throat, and a brighter rusty-red on the back, especially on 
the rump. In the adults the bill is longer and proportionally 
slenderer, and the faint, light superciliary line is better marked." 

As far as we can tell from the scanty material available, the molts 
are apparently similar to those of the eastern winter wren. 

Food.—Yv^l^ and McAtee (1923) write: 

Of the 11 stomachs of Alaska wrens available 9 were examined some time 
ago by less discriminating methods than those at present in use, and it is only 
possible, therefore, to indicate the nature of the food in very general terms. 
The sustenance was entirely animal and included the following groups : 


Ampliipods, 24.1 percent; two-winged flies (partly Borboridae), 24.1 percent; 
beetles (including ground and rove beetles), 14.3 percent; bugs (Hemiptera), 
13.2 percent ; caterpillars, 12.9 percent ; and Hymenoptera, 11.4 percent. 

A recently examined stomacli contained the following items: Six beetles of 
the sexton-beetle family (Lyrosoina opaca) , 12 percent; rove beetles (Olophrum 
ftiscum and 2 Liparoccplialus hrevipennis) , 3 percent; three small parasitic 
wasps (including Phygadeuon sp. and Plesignathus sp.), 1 percent; remains of 
dung flies {Scatophaga sp.) and perhaps other flies, 74 percent; one mite of an 
undescribed genus of the family Gamasidae, trace; and amphipod remains, 10 

Another stomach, lately examined, taken October 29, 1914, contained remains 
of 24 or more rove beetles ( Staphylinidae) , 70 percent ; 4 beach beetles (Aegialites 
deUlis), 19 percent; 1 other beetle, 1 percent; and a few files, 10 percent. 

Behavior. — The behavior of the birds during the breeding season 
has been described by Dr. Heath above. Mr. Elliott's notes, quoted 
by Dr. Coues (1875) , say that "the male is very gay during the period 
of mating and incubation, flying incessantly from plant to plant or 
rock to rock, singing a rather shrill and very loud song, and making, 
for a small bird, a great noise." 

Winter. — The destruction of these wrens by gyrfalcons in winter 
has been referred to above. Mr. Elliott told Dr. Nelson (1887) that 
"during exceptionally severe winters on the island of St. George, 
large numbers of these birds die of exposure, so that only the hardiest 
among them survive. But the rapidity with which they multiply 
brings their numbers up to the former standard in a very few seasons." 




Dr. Oberholser (1919) has given the above name to the wrens of 
Tanaga, Adak, and Atka Islands in the Aleutian Chain. The sub- 
species description is based on nine specimens, collected on the above 
islands, mostly by the members of our expedition in 1911. He says that 
it is similar to the Kiska bird, "but wing somewhat longer; upper parts 
more rufescent and rather lighter, especially on the lower back, rump, 
and upper tail-coverts; posterior lower parts on the average less 
heavily barred, and with the bars less blackish ; the entire under sur- 
face averaging lighter and somewhat more ochraceous." He says that 
it is nearest to the bird of the Pribilof Islands, "but its bill is much 
longer and its upper parts lighter." 

On Atka Island we found the birds in a sheltered, grassy hollow with 
a few rocks scattered through it, and in rocky ravines and gulches, 
where it was in full song. On Adak Island they were on the rocky 
shores of the Bay of Waterfalls. They doubtless occur in both types of 
habitat on all of these islands. Their habits are evidently the same 
as those of the other island subspecies. 



Dr. Oberholser (1919) gives this new name to the wrens found on 
Unalaska Island and the neighboring islands of Amaknak and Akutan. 
On the basis of 15 specimens from these localities, he describes the 
new subspecies as similar to the Pribilof bird, "but wing shorter ; bill 
longer; upper parts lighter, much more rufescent; lower parts decid- 
edly paler, and posteriorly with narrower and lighter bars." 

We noticed nothing different from the habits of these wrens else- 
where in the wrens we saw on these islands, but Dr. Nelson (1887) has 
this to say about the haunts and habits of this subspecies : 

On May 13, 1877, I landed, during a heavy gale, on the island of Akoutan, just 
east of Unalaska, and was making my way cautiously along the rock-strewn 
beach, half expecting a fall of fragments from the beetling cliffs above to join 
the rocky mass which had already fallen. While occupied in searching cautiously 
for a firm footing, a faint, wiry, note struck my ear and brought me to a sudden 
standstill. All about lay huge blocks of riven lava, from which arose the over- 
hanging crags ; a little back a more sloping bluff presented its face, the inequalities 
of which were dotted by scattered grass and other vegetation, now dead and 
yellow, or in spots were flecked with patches of snow. As my eye scanned this 
abrupt slope, the author of the notes was seen clinging to a dwarf willow bush at 
the very brow of the bluflE, over which the wind came with great force, beating 
the bush back and forth as if it would uproot it. 

* * * The last of September and first of October, 1881, while the Corwiu 
lay at Unalaska, I had still further opportunities for studying this little-known 
species in its home. They were very common everywhere on the lower portions 
of the island, wherever the rank grass and other plants, combined with the 
stunted bushes, offered a fitting shelter. Here the birds were seen repeatedly, 
swinging on the projecting sprays or flitting busily from point to point, and 
showing a peculiar sprightliness and activity common to it and its kind. 



Only two specimens of this wren from the Semidi Islands, on the 
south side of the Alaska Peninsula, to which it seems to be confined, 
were available for study when Dr. Oberholser (1919) described it as 
similar to the Unalaska bird, "but wing, tail, and bill somewhat longer ; 
upper parts less rufescent (more grayish) and somewhat darker; 
under surface paler, less deeply ochraceous, and posteriorly rather 
more heavily barred." He says that it differs from the Pribilof bird 
"in its decidedly longer bill and somewhat longer tarsus and middle 
toe; somewhat lighter, less rufescent upper parts; and paler, less 
ochraceous lower surface." 

Nothing seems to have been recorded about its haunts or habits. 



This race seems to be confined to Kodiak Island. Dr. Wilfred H. 
Osgood (1901) named it in honor of Edmund Heller, who was with 
him when the type was collected. He described it as "slightly larger 
and paler colored than" the western winter wren, and remarked that 
it "is merely another illustration of the tendency of west coast birds 
which range as far north as Kodiak to become pale in their northern 

Dr. Oberholser (1919) calls it similar to the Unalaska bird, "but 
smaller, especially the bill; upper surface much darker, more sooty 
(less rufescent) ; dark bars of lower back, rump, and upper tail-coverts 
more conspicuous; lower parts darker, and posteriorly more heavily 

It is apparently one of the rarest of the subspecies, and very little 
seems to be known about it. 


Dr. Harry C. Oberholser (1930) has split off another finely drawn 
race from the many recognized subspecies of Alaskan wrens, to which 
he has given the above name. He describes it as similar to the Una- 
laska wren, "but upper parts, and to a less extent, also the lower sur- 
face, more grayish or sooty (less rufescent) in both adult and juvenal 
plumages ; posterior lower parts in adult on the average less heavily 
spotted with fuscous ; bill and middle toe averaging slightly longer." 

He says that it is found on "Amak Island and Amagat Island, 
Alaska ; and probably also other neighboring islands and the south- 
western end of the Alaska Peninsula. 

"As in most of the other Alaska races of this species there is con- 
siderable individual variation in this new form; and the differences, 
while very readily recognizable in a series, are, of course, to some ex- 
tent overlapped by individuals of the most closely related subspecies, 
Nannus troglodytes petrophilus. It is interesting, however, to note 
that the color differences are fully as noticeable in the juvenal plumage 
as in the adult, as is well shown by the series of 10 young and 5 adults 
from Amak and Amagat Islands that have been examined." 



Plates 32, 33 


Baird (1864) , in his original description of this wren, says : "I find, 
on comparing series of eastern birds with those from the Pacific 


slope, that the latter are considerably darker in color above, with little 
or almost none of the whitish spotting among the dusky bars so char- 
acteristic of eastern specimens. The under parts are more rufous, 
the tarsi appear shorter, and the claws decidedly larger." 

Eidgway (1904) describes it as similar to the eastern bird, "but 
darker and more richly colored; brown of upper parts darker, more 
rusty, more unifonn, the back, etc., much less distinctly barred, often 
quite uniform; color of throat, chest, etc., much deeper and brighter, 
moie tawny-cinnamon or light russet ; bill straighter and more slender." 

The breeding range of the western winter wren extends along the 
Pacific slope from Prince William Sound, Alaska, to central Califor- 
nia, and in the Rocky Mountan region from western Alberta to north- 
ern Colorado. 

The haunts and habits of the western winter wren are similar to 
those of its eastern relative, though the environment is somewhat 
different. The eastern bird is content to make its summer home in 
dense forests of spruces and firs that grow to only moderate heights, 
while its western relative lives in the deep forests of giant conifers 
that so heavily clothe the northwest coast from sea level to the limit 
of trees, and in the deep shade of the grand redwood forests of 

S. F. Rathbun tells me that it is one of the few birds to be f oimd 
in the deep forests of western Washington, even in the densest places. 
He finds it in the forests bordering the beaches, at lake level inland 
and up to 5,000 feet in the Olympic Mountains. Referring to Mount 
Rainier, in Washington, Taylor and Shaw (1927) write : "The western 
winter wren seems as much a part of the forest floor as the mosses, 
huckleberry vines, huge logs, and upturned roots of his surround- 
ings. * * * "^i^en the traveler emerges from the dark woods 
onto the open meadows or well-lighted brushy burns the wrens become 
much less numerous, for they are fond of shadows. They are often 
found at a considerable distance from water on some forest-covered 
hillside. Once, indeed, they were noted in clumps of alpine firs on 
an open and well-lighted hillside with a southern exposure." 

Grinnell and Storer (1924) say that, in the Yosemite region, this, 
the smallest and most seclusive of the wrens, "lives at the middle 
altitudes, amid freshest-bared tangles and rootlets and accumulations 
of drift materials along shaded stream courses." W. A. Kent writes 
to me that, at the head waters of the Kern River in the Sierra Nevadas 
he found that the western winter wren had nested at an elevation of 
11,000 feet. Dawson (1923) says : "The Western Winter Wren is one 
of the commonest birds in the humid coast belt of western California 
as far south as middle Monterey County. Not only is it the most 
characteristic inhabitant of rugged stream beds and romantic dells, 
but it may be found throughout the somber depths of the fir and red- 


wood forests, from sea-level nearly to the tops of the northern moun- 

Courtship. — I do not know whether anyone has ever seen the court- 
ship display of the eastern winter wren, but I have never seen it 
reported. Therefore, the following account of the display of the 
western winter wren, by Theed Pearse (1933) is of special interest: 

The bird was in a bush above a tangle in which, possibly, there was a 
female, on a branch just clear of the tangle. First, the bird fluttered or 
quivered its wings, keeping them close to the body slightly drooped. Its 
general attitude was rather squatting, the converse of the ordinary alert up- 
standing posture. When quivering it looked down towards the ground (the 
tangle where there may have been a female) and worked its tail alternately 
from side to side. At times it would utter a note, a much modified and softened 
regular alarm note. 

The climax came when the bird dropped its wings and fanned with them, 
bringing them forward and then backwards. The feathers carried coucavely 
from the front, with the feathers on the back also raised between the wings. 
The bird "fanned" about ten times; the action was quick but easily followed. 
After this the bird dropped into the bush and moved away. Shortly after- 
wards a Winter Wren appeared in the same bush, up from below and perched 
there for a time bowing or bobbing. 

It was when the bird had the wings held open "fanning" that it brought 
into prominence some white markings on the feathers that were raised on 
the rump. The glimpse one had, made it difficult to decide whether the white 
was on the secondary tertial or rump feathers, but there was sufficient to 
draw attention, though so inconspicuous, that I had to make sure by exam- 
ining the skins in Mr. Laing's collection. We found that when the feathers 
on the rump were parted there were some that showed white markings or spots. 

Nesting. — The nests of the western winter wren are apparently 
very similar, in construction and in the kinds of material used, to 
those of the eastern bird, but the locations chosen seem to be some- 
what more varied. Dawson and Bowles (1909) say: 

For nesting sites the Wrens avaU themselves of cubbyholes and crannies in 
upturned roots or fallen logs, and fire-holes in half-burned stumps. A favorite 
situation is one of the crevices which occur in a large fir tree when it falls 
and splits open. Or the nest is sometimes found under the bark of a decaying 
log, or in a crevice of earth in an unused mine-shaft. If the site selected 
has a wide entrance, this is walled up by the nesting material and only a 
smooth round aperture an inch and a quarter in diameter is left to admit 
to the nest proper. In default of such shelter, birds have been known to 
construct their nests at the center of some baby fir, or in the drooping branches 
of a fir tree at a height of a foot or more from the ground. 

Mr. Rathbun mentions in his notes a nest that was still farther 
from the ground: "The nest was attached very near the extremity 
of one of the lower limbs of a small hemlock tree at a height of 
12 feet. It was almost round in shape and resembled a bunch of 
moss hanging from the limb, but it was too perfect in shape to 
deceive me." 


Thomas D. Burleigh (1930) records four nests, found in north- 
western Washington, in four different situations; one was "2 feet 
from the ground in the upturned roots of a large fir at the side of 
a stream in a wooded ravine." Another was "2 feet from the gi-ound 
in a crevice at the end of an old rotten log on a hillside in a ravine" ; 
a third "was 31/2 feet from the ground in a hole in an old rotten 
stump in a stretch of thick woods." The fourth nest seems most 
unusual "for it was 5 feet from the ground well concealed in a 
mass of dead leaves lodged in a clump of shoots growing from the 
trunlv of a large alder in a short stretch of open woods." 

There is a nest in the Thayer collection in Cambridge that was 
apparently similarly located ; it was taken by F. J. Smith, of Eureka, 
Calif., "in woods near town, fastened to sprouts against the side of 
an alder tree, partly concealed by tall sword ferns." 

The western winter wren is one of the species that accepted J. H. 
Bowles's invitation to nest in artificially prepared nesting sites; he 
had a pair adopt a "very old and badly broken down Creeper 'decoy' " ; 
he tried tin cans and other devices unsuccessfully, and then says 
(1922) : "Finally I removed a section of bark from a small dead fir 
stub, dug out a space about six inches in diameter, then replaced 
the bark and made an entrance hole about an inch and a half in diam- 
eter close to the top of the cavity." A pair of wrens took possession, 
a few weeks later built a beautiful nest, and laid a set of five eggs in 

Like some other wrens, notably the long-billed marsh wren, the 
western winter wren builds extra nests, false or decoy nests, perhaps 
through super-abundant energy on the part of the male, or with the 
idea of appropriating all available nesting sites for possible future 
use. Mr. Bowles (1899) says: "The number of 'decoys' built by 
one pair of these birds varies from one to at least four, and on one 
occasion I found eight of these false nests that were strung along 
the edge of a stream bordered by dense growth of all sizes. These 
were all in a space about 150 yards long and almost in a straight 
line." He does not claim that all of these nests were made by one 
pair of birds, but only one appeared during his search. "The 'decoys' 
are never so well constructed as the regular nests, but a few weeks ago 
I was surprised to find that a pair had made over and lined one of 
last season and laid one egg.^^ 

Eggs. — The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the eastern 
winter wren. The measurements of 40 eggs average 16.4 by 12.4 milli- 
meters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 18.1 by 12.7, 17.2 
by 13.0, and 14.0 by 12.0 millimeters. 

Young. — Mrs. Wlieelock (1904) says that the young "are fed by 
regurgitation for several days after hatching, the menu being chiefly 


small grubs which the busy little parents pick out of the bark of the 
coniferous trees. They are fed on insects and worms also. After the 
sixth day the food is mostly given in the fresh condition. The wren 
nestlings leave the nest between the seventeenth and twenty-first 

Grinnell and Storer (1924) watched a nest containing young that 
was located on the edge of a small stream, only 13 inches above the 
water. They write: 

The parent was busily engaged in feeding large green worms, millers, crane- 
flies, and other insects to the young. A beam of light reflected into the nest from 
a mirror did not seem to frighten the wrens and so it was possible to observe 
closely the process of feeding. The old bird made visits at intervals of 4, 9, 
2, 2, 7, 8, and 3 minutes, respectively ; twice, at the second and last of these timed 
visits, the bird carried away excrement. The young void the excrement (which 
is enclosed in a gelatinous sac) immediately after being fed; it is dropped by 
them on the rim of the nest where it lies as a conspicuous spherical white ob- 
ject, the size of a large bean. The old bird seizes this in her bill and in one 
instance carried it away fully 50 feet before depositing it in a wild currant 
bush. One sac fell into the small stream and as it floated slowly along the sur- 
face the bird snatched nervously at it again and again. Finally it was re- 
covered, whereupon the bird flew off and disposed of it in the usual manner, in a 
place where it would give no clue to the location of the nest. 

Food. — No comprehensive, detailed study of the food of the western 
winter wren seems to have been made, but it probably does not differ 
much from that of other wrens in its habitat. It seems to subsist almost 
wholly, if not entirely, on insects and their larvae. The items men- 
tioned in the food of the young, above, probably constitute the bulk 
of its food. 

Behavior. — Anyone familiar with our eastern winter wren would 
recognize this little westerner by its behavior. It is the same, nervous, 
active little mouse, dodging about near the ground, in and out of 
tangles and the roots of trees, and about prostrate logs, bowing and 
bobbing, with its short tail cocked up over its back. Grinnell and 
Storer (1924) say: 

The bird seems to sldp along and uses both the short wings and long legs in 
all its ordinary movements. It seems equally at ease on a nearly vertical twig 
and on a horizontal root or branchlet. 

One evening just at sunset, in October, while our party was camped near 
Sweetwater Creek, a winter wren was watched as it came down to bathe. The 
bird fluttered down, half flying, half hopping, to a small pool completely screened 
from above. It would stay a few seconds, splashing in the water, and then 
move to a perch a few feet above the pool, soon to return for another brief dip. 
Five or six such short visits were made and then the bird returned to the perch 
where it stayed for a while, fluffing out all its feathers, and using its bill to press 
out the water. Two or three minutes sufficed to complete its toilet and then the 
wren made off down the creek to a brush pile. 

Voice. — What has been written about the voice of the eastern winter 
wren would apply equally well to its western relative. The song is 


hardly inferior to it in any way, and its call notes are similar. Mr. 
Eathbun tells me that this wren has a long period of song; he has 
heard it as early as February 28, but it sings most incessantly from 
the middle of March to the end of June ; he hears it also in July and 
early in August, but then the song, "although well rendered, seems 
to lack the abandon of that heard during the earlier period" and is 
not so frequently given. He once timed the duration of the song and 
found that its length varied from 8 to 17 seconds, at times up to 23 
seconds; the intervals between the songs were 4 to 12 seconds; some- 
times the songs were repeated without intermissions. He remarks 
that some of the notes have "the quality of the tones given by lightly 
striking the edge of a thin glass goblet." 

Taylor and Shaw (1927) say: "If the observer remains quiet, and 
perhaps makes a squeaking sound with the lips on the back of his hand, 
he can easily attract the midgets to within 3 or 4 feet. Under such 
conditions a call note is uttered, evidently expressive of curiosity or 
caution, tssssf tssss/ The usual call note is a check/ chek-chekf chek- 

Winter. — Cold weather, snow, and ice combine to drive the wrens 
down from the higher elevations in the mountains to the lower and 
milder valleys, where they seek such shelter as they can find. Even 
here they sometimes perish during severe winters. Theed Pearse tells 
me that, on Vancouver Island, they suffered a great reduction in 
numbers as a result of two successive cold and snowy winters, 1936-37 
and 1937-38, but had recovered quite well by the winter of 1939-40. 

C. E. Ehinger (1925) tells an interesting story of a winter wrens' 
lodginghouse in western Washington. This Avas a small birdbox, 6 
inches square, attached to their cabin, which was surrounded with 
woods. During severe winter weather, in December and January, 
an increasing number of wrens began using this box as a night roost- 
ing place. He describes their actions as follows : 

At the setting of the sun the wrens began to gather, and for half an hour 
they played about the bird box in the most interesting manner. Singly and in 
groups they would dash up to the cabin wall, cling there a moment, then with 
a flying leap change their position to one a little nearer to the bird box. This 
was continued until they could spring upon the roof of the box, from which 
they dropped to the little platform and entered. After a moment they would 
usually fly out again and circle around, only to repeat the manoeuvre. Several 
times, 10 to 15 wrens were counted clinging to the cabin wall at the same time, 
like so many great flies, when they would repeat the aforesaid manoeuvre and 
finally disappear silently through the tiny opening into their lodging house like 
little feathered mice. * * * 

January 21, time 4 : 45 to 5 : 20 p. m., proved the prize record for wren lodgers. 
After a short period of the usual "play-antics" the birds entered rapidly until 30 
were counted. Others continued to come, but the situation inside apparently 
seemed hopeless, and they flew around to the front of the cabin where a ledge 
under the eaves seemed to furnish a protected roosting place. We saw those 


later through a little ventilating window under the eaves and also heard them 
moving about. Just before complete darkness, one belated wren came to the 
bird box, tried to enter and failed, finding a full house; but not to be denied 
a warm sleeping place he stood a few moments on the little porch and made 
a vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to gain entrance. He heard the wrens 
inside chattering and moving about, perhaps trying to make room for the late 
comer. He finally made a third desperate attempt and, climbing over seemingly 
insurmountable obstacles, he gainetP entrance, and in a few moments all was 
still with 31 Winter Wrens snugly ensconced in this 6X6X6 inch apartment. 



Plate 34 


Bewick's wren, the type race of the species, is the eastern representa- 
tive of a widely distributed species that has been subdivided into 12 
additional subspecies in western North America within the limits 
of our Check-list. Although it has the widest range and has been 
known for the longest time, it does not seem to have been so thoroughly 
studied as some of the western races. Its breeding range, according 
to the 1931 Check-list, is from southeastern Nebraska, northern Illinois, 
southern Michigan, and central Pennsylvania south to central Ar- 
kansas, northern Mississippi, central Alabama, central Georgia, and 
the highlands of South Carolina. 

The local distribution of Bewick's wren seems to be dependent on, 
or limited by, the local distribution of the house wren, for the two 
do not seem to get along well together, as several observers have noted. 
Perhaps the gentle Bewick's wren is no match for the more aggressive 
house wren. 

Dr. George M. Sutton (1930) says: "The House Wren and 
Carolina Wren may inhabit precisely the same region without fric- 
tion ; but the House Wren and Bewick's Wren, or the Bewick's Wren 
and Carolina Wren, or all three species, evidently do not." (See also 
Bayard H. Christy's 1924 paper.) 

Whatever the local situations may be, or whichever wren may be 
the aggressor, the fact remains that Bewick's wren has been steadily 
extending its general range northward into the States named above, 
as well as in Ohio and Indiana, in regions where it was unknown 50 
years ago; most of this northward extension seems to have occurred 
during the last decade of the last century and the first ten years of 
this. This movement is discussed in more detail by Leon J. Cole ( 1905 ) 
and more lately by W. E. Clyde Todd (1940), for those who care to 
study its i3rogress. 

Where Bewick's wren replaces the house wren it becomes the "house 
wren" of the community, avoiding the swampy woodlands and fre- 


quenting open woodlands, upland thickets and hills, fence rows near 
houses, and orchards, where it is often seen perched on telephone wires 
or even the roofs of houses and farm buildings, pouring out its de- 
lightful song. Ridgway (1889) says: "No bird more deserves the 
protection of man than Bewick's Wren. He does not need man's en- 
couragement, for he comes of his own accord and installs himself as 
a member of the community, wherever it suits his taste. He is found 
about the cow-shed and barn along with the Pewee and Barn Swallow ; 
he investigates the pig-sty ; then explores the garden fence, and finally 
mounts to the roof and pours forth one of the sweetest songs that 
ever was heard." William Brewster (1886) says that, in western North 
Carolina, it was "confined almost exclusively to the towns, where it 
was usually one of the most abundant and conspicuous birds. * * * 
At Asheville it was breeding in such numbers that nearly every shed 
or other out-building harbored a pair." 

Nesting. — Almost any suitable cavity or place of support will suit 
this wren for a nesting site. Dr. S. S. Dickey (Todd, 1940) writes: 
"Odd and wonderful are the sites that Bewick's Wren habitually 
chooses for its summer home. Away from the haunts of man, it selects 
locations suggesting its primitive habits — knotholes in fallen trees in 
the woods or open fields, natural cavities and woodpecker-holes in 
trees, or now and then the center of a dense brush heap. But civiliza- 
tion has provided this bird with an unusual variety of homes. Any 
opening of ready access invites its attention; among those used are 
holes in fence posts, tin cans, empty barrels, discarded clothing hung 
in buildings, baskets, bird boxes, deserted automobiles, oil wells, and 
crevices in stone, brick, or tile walls." 

Eidgway (1889) adds the following: 

Usually it is in a mortise-hole of a beam or joist, or some well-concealed 
corner. One was beneath the board covering of an ash-hopper; another, in a 
joint of stovepipe which lay horizontally across two joists in the garret of a 
smoke-house ; a third was behind the weather-boarding of an ice-house, while a 
fourth was in the bottom of the conical portion of a quail-net that had been 
hung up against the inner side of a buggy shed. None of these nests would have 
been found had not the bird been seen to enter. 

The nest is generally very bulky, though its size is regulated by that of the 
cavity in which it is placed. Its materials consist of sticks, straw, coarse 
feathers, fine chips, etc., matted together with spiders' webs, and lined with tow 
and soft feathers of barnyard fowls." 

Myra Katie Roads writes to me of a nest that was built in a mail box 
and disturbed every time the mail was deposited or removed ; it was 
destroyed before the eggs hatched. There is a set of eggs in my collec- 
tion, taken by Dr. Dickey ; the nest was built on top of and partly inside 
a last year's nest of the phoebe; this was plastered to the side of a 
horizontal beam against the ceiling of the lower story of a sheep shed, 
8 feet above the ground. 


In addition to the materials named above, nests have been found to 
contain green moss, dead leaves, cotton, hair, wool, and occasionally a 
piece of cast-off snakeskin. 

On at least two occasions, a cowbird's egg has been found in the nest 
of this wren, according to Dr. Herbert Friedmann ( 1929) . 

A. Dawes DuBois tells me of a nest he found that "was between two 
sheets of loosely placed sheet iron in the flat roof of a farmer's shelter 
for pigs; he has another in his collection that "was in a sack hung up 
with seed corn in an old outhouse ; there was a hole in the side of the 
sack and through this the wrens entered." And Aretas A. Saunders 
writes to me that he saw one building a nest in a wood pile. 

Eggs. — The commonest numbers of eggs found in the nests of 
Bewick's wren run from 5 to 7 ; perhaps 7 might be called the average ; 
as few as 4 and as many as 11 have been found, and sets of 8 or 9 are 
not very rare. The eggs are often very pretty ; the ground color is 
white, and they are more or less irregularly spotted and dotted with 
reddish brown, umber, various shades of lighter brown, purplish 
brown, drab, or lavender. The markings are sometimes concentrated 
in a ring about the larger end. Some are very finely and faintly sprin- 
kled with minute dots ; and some are nearly immaculate. The measure- 
ments of 40 eggs in the United States National Museum average 16.4 
by 12.7 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.8 
by 12.7, 16.8 by 13.2, 14.6 by 12.8, and 15.3 by 11.7 millimeters. 

Young. — The period of incubation has been estimated as 10 to 14 
days, but most observers agree on 14 days as the average. Probably 
only the female incubates, as suggested by one of the western races. 
The young remain in the nest about 14 days and are fed by both 
parents while in the nest and for 2 weeks or more after they leave it. 
Two broods are generally raised in a season, and sometimes three in 
the South. Butler (1898) says that the young return "every night 
to roost in the nest after they are able to fly." 

M. B. Skaggs (1934) timed the feedings of a brood of four young 
for four periods of one hour each on three different days, with the 
following results : 

First day : Rain almost constantly. Fed 13 times at an average of 4.61 minutes. 
Second day: a. m., fed 24 times at average intervals of 2.50 minutes; p. m., fed 
19 times at average intervals of 3.15 minutes. Third day: fed 23 times at 
average intervals of 2.61 minutes. The average interval was 3.04 minutes; 
the longest interval was 15 minutes ; the shortest interval was '^h. minute. 

Assuming that the feeding was done only 13 hours per day, 250 trips were 
made daily. If young were in nest only 12 days, this would mean about 3,072 
insects were consumed in addition to what the adults ate. The food for the 
young seemed to consist mostly of green worms with a few moths and cater- 
pillars. Obviously this destruction of insect life must have been very beneficial 
to the near-by apple orchard. 


Plumages. — I have seen no very young nestlings. Ridgway (1904) 
describes the plumages as follows: The young in juvenal plumage 
are "similar to adults, but ground color of middle rectrices brown, 
like back, etc., feathers of chest (sometimes throat also) more or less 
<listinctly margined or edged with grayish or dusky, and under tail- 
coverts more brownish and less distinctly barred." Young birds, 
showing the postjuvenal molt, are scarce in collections, but apparently 
this molt occurs in August or September, involving the contour 
plumage, the wing coverts and the tail, but not the rest of the wings. 
This produces a first winter plumage that is practically indistinguish- 
able from the winter plumage of the adult. Ridgway (1904) says 
that winter adults, at least in fresh plumage, are "more brightly 
colored, the upper parts more chestnut-brown," than in spring birds, 
"middle rectrices browner (broccoli brown to light bistre), sides and 
flanks more strongly tinged with brown, the under tail-coverts with 
ground color brownish white or pale buffy brown." Wear and fading 
produce somewhat duller colors before spring. Adults apparently 
have a complete postnuptial molt in August and September. 

Food. — No comprehensive study of the food of the eastern Bewick's 
wren seems to have been made, but it probably does not differ widely 
from that of the California races. It is undoubtedly an insectivorous 
bird, as are all the wrens. It has been credited with eating boll 
weevils in the South and locusts in Nebraska. 

Behavior. — Bewick's wren is a gentle, confiding bird, rather courting 
than avoiding human society, being a familiar dooryard bird through- 
out most of its range. What has been said about its haunts and nest- 
ing habits illustrates this point. Mr. Brewster (1886) writes of its 
actions : "This species resembles other Wrens (especially T. ludovici- 
anus) in habits and motions, creeping and hopping about under eaves 
of buildings, and along fences, entering every hole and crevice, and 
appearing and disappearing like a mouse. Its slender shape and long 
tail give it, however, a somewhat peculiar appearance — much like that 
of the Polioptilae. The tail is habitually carried above the line of the 
back, although its position and inclination are constantly changing. 
It is not moved in the usual jerky Wren-fashion, but rather slowly and 
deliberately. In a breezy situation it often seems quite beyond the 
bird's control, waving about with every passing puff of air." 

Ridgway (1889) says that, as the bird hops about, its long tail is 
"carried erect or even leaning forward, and jerked to one side at short 
intervals. In its movements it is altogether more deliberate than 
either T. ludovicianus or T. aedon^ but nothing can excel it in quickness 
when it is pursued." 

Voice. — Bewick's wren is a fine singer. Mr. Brewster (1886) says 
that "the song is sweet and exquisitely tender — one of the sweetest and 


tenderest strains that I know. It recalls that of the song sparrow, but 
is more prolonged, varied, and expressive." A. W. Butler (1898) re- 
ports a long period of song, as heard in Indiana, from the last of March 
until the end of August ; and once it was heard on October 14. He says 
that the common alarm note is plit; and they have "a finer rattling note 
than that uttered by the Carolina Wren. * * * One song I have 
written chip^ chip chip^ te-da-a^ te-dee; another, cheep^ cheep^ 
che-we-e-e-e. A third song sounds something like lohee-to-weet^ a-her^ 
che-chee; while one of its most familiar efforts seems to be expressed 
by chick ^ click^ for me-e, for you.^^ 

Ridgway (1889) says that the song is "not a voluble gabble, like the 
House Wren's merry roundelay, but a fine, clear, bold song, uttered as 
the singer sits with head thrown back and long tail pendent, — a song 
which may be heard a quarter of a mile or more, and in comparison 
with which the faint chant of the Song Sparrow sinks into insignifi- 

Howell and Oldys (1907) made a careful study of various songs of 
this wren, and state that "in imitative ability the Bewick Wren has, 
apparently, no rival among our eastern birds other than the Mocking- 
bird, by which, however, it is greatly excelled. * * * j^ seems to be 
better entitled to the sobriquet of 'Mocking Wren,' than the Carolina 
Wren, on which the name is sometimes inappropriately bestowed." 

Francis H. Allen (MS.) writes the song as ^'■tBip-ta-tzce-ta-tTill-zip, 
or pit-zee-ta-triW, both infrequent." And he calls the scolding note a 
buzzing dss. He says that the ordinary song is like a song sparrow's, 
but has a minor strain near the beginning suggestive of the fox spar- 
row, and ends in a trill. 

Field 7narks. — Bewick's wren is smaller than the Carolina wren and 
larger than the house wren. It has a much longer tail than either; 
the tail is rounded at the tip and appears broader there than at the 
base ; the lateral tail feathers are tipped with white spots, which show 
when the tail is spread ; the tail is frequently in motion. There is a 
conspicuous white line over the eye. The back is grayer, less reddish 
brown, than in the Carolina wren, the underparts are lighter colored, 
and the bird is more slender. 


Range. — From the southwestern British Columbia and the Pacific 
coast region ; and from central United States to southern Mexico. 

Breeding range. — The Bewick's wren breeds north to southwestern 
British Columbia (Comox, V. I., Chilli wack, and casually to Howe 
Sound) through Washington and Oregon west of the Cascades, to 
northeastern California (Sugar Hill and Cedarville) ; southern 
Nevada (Pahrump Mountains and St. Thomas) ; southern Utah (Iron 


City) ; southwestern Wyoming (Green River Valley) ; central Ne- 
braska (Kearney) ; southern Iowa (Iowa City and Davenport) ; 
southern Wisconsin (Prairie du Sac) ; southern Michigan (Grand 
Eapids and Ann Arbor) ; and central Pennsylvania (Beaver and State 
College). East to central Pennsylvania (State College and Blue 
Ridge Summit) ; the eastern slope of the Alleghenies, south to north- 
ern Georgia (Brasstown Bald and EUijay). South to northern 
Georgia (Brasstown Bald and Ellijay) ; central Alabama (Woodbiana 
and Prattville) ; northern Mississippi (luka and New Albany) ; cen- 
tral Arkansas (Conway and Rich Mountain) ; northeastern Oklahoma 
(Tulsa County) to central Oklahoma and Texas and to southern 
Mexico (Oaxaca). West to Oaxaca (Oaxaca) ; Jalisco (Lake Chapala 
and Guadalajara) ; Baja California (San Juanico and Cedros Island) ; 
north through California, Oregon, and Washington west of the Cas- 
cades to British Columbia (Victoria and Comox). 

Winter range. — Bewick's wren winters north to southern Van- 
couver Island, British Columbia (Courtenay), and south through 
Washington and Oregon west of the Cascades to southern California 
(Death Valley) ; southern Nevada (opposite Fort Mojave) ; central 
Arizona (Prescott) ; southern New Mexico (Silver City and Deming) ; 
central Texas (Fredericksburg, Waco, and Dallas) ; central Oklahoma 
(Oklahoma City) ; central Arkansas (Hot Springs) ; southern Illinois 
(Olney) ; and southwestern Ohio (Xenia). East to southwestern 
Ohio (Xenia) ; central Kentucky (Lexington) ; central Tennessee 
(Nashville and Murfreesboro) ; central Georgia (Athens and Macon) ; 
South Carolina (rarely Chester County and Charleston) ; and north- 
ern Florida (Daytona). South to northern Florida (Daytona and 
Pensacola) ; the Gulf coast to southern Texas (Brownsville) ; and 
southern Mexico (Oaxaca). West to Oaxaca (Oaxaca) ; Baja Cali- 
fornia (Cedros Island) ; Guadalupe Island, formerly ; and the Pacific 
coast north to Vancouver Island. 

The range as outlined is for the entire species, which has been divided 
into 16 subspecies or geographic races. The typical race {T. b. he- 
wicMi) breeds from Nebraska eastward to central Ohio; the Appa- 
lachian Bewick's wren {T. h. alius) breeds from central Ohio and 
Pennsylvania through the mountains to Alabama; the Texas wren {T. 
h. cryptus) is found from central Texas to Tamaulipas and Nuevo 
Leon; Baird's wren {T. h. eremophilus) occurs in southeastern Cali- 
fornia, Arizona, southern Utah, and Colorado to extreme western 
Texas to Coahuila, Durango, and central Zacatecas ; the Seattle wren 
(T. h. coJophonus) is found on the Pacific slope from British Columbia 
to Oregon; the Nicasio wren {T. h. marinensis) occupies the coastal 
belt from southwestern Oregon to Marin County, Calif. ; the Warner 
Valley wren {2\ h. atrestus) occurs in southern Oregon from the War- 

758066 — 48 13 


iier Valley west to Medford and Ashland ; Vigor's wren {T. h. spilurus) 
is found from San Francisco Bay to northern Monterey County, 
Calif. ; the San Joaquin wren (2'. b. d/rymoecus) occurs from the lower 
San Joaquin Valley and the western slope of the Sierra Nevada north 
to northern California; the San Diego wren {T. b. correctus) is found 
in the coastal belt from San Benito and Monterey Counties, Calif., to 
near the Mexican boundary; the Santa Cruz wren {T. b. nssophilus) 
occupies Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, Calif. ; the Catalina wren 
{T. b. catalinae) occurs on Santa Catalina Island; the San Clemente 
wren {7\ b. leucophrys) occurs on San Clemente Island; the sooty 
wren (7\ b. charientwus) is found in northwestern Baja California, 
south to latitude 30°; the Cedros Island wren {T. b. cerroensis) 
occurs on Cedros Island and the adjacent mainland; the Guadalupe 
wren {T. b. brevicauda) , formerly a full species, now considered a sub- 
species of the Bewick's wren, occurred on Guadalupe Island but is 
probably now extinct. 

Spring migration. — Late dates of spring departure are : Florida — 
Chipley, March 27. Georgia — Beachton, March 26. North Carolina — 
Raleigh, April 3. Mississippi — Eliisville, March 29. Louisiana — 
Baton Rouge, March 9. Arkansas — Delight, April 2. Texas — Bon- 
ham, April 4. Oklahoma — Oklahoma City, March 16. Arizona — 
Tucson, May 2. 

Early dates of spring arrival are : Virginia — Lynchburg, March 14. 
West Virginia — French Creek, March 19. Pennsylvania — State Col- 
lege, April 10. Tennessee — Knoxville, February 19. Kentucky — 
Bowling Green, March 1. Ohio — Columbus, March 3. Indiana — 
Lafayette, March 17. Illinois — Urbana, March 17. Iowa — Blacks- 
burg, March 19. Kansas — Manhattan, March 10. Nebraska — Hast- 
ings, April 6. Arizona — Tombstone, February 18. Colorado — Fort 
Morgan, May 4. 

Fall migration. — Late dates of fall departure are : Colorado — Fort 
Morgan, November 17. Arizona — Tombstone, November 15. Iowa — 
National, October 1. Missouri — Jasper City, November 12. Arkan- 
sas — Rogers, October 30. Illinois — Rantoul, October 25. Indiana — 
Richmond, October 14. Ohio — Cleveland, October 24. Kentucky — 
Versailles, October 20. Pennsylvania — Beaver, October 2. West Vir- 
ginia — French Creek, October 12. Virginia — Naruiia, November 18. 

Early dates of fall arrival are : Oklahoma — Oklahoma City, October 
15. Texas — Bonham, September 29. Arkansas — Delight, September 
18. Louisiana — New Orleans, August 28. Mississippi — Bay St. Louis, 
September 21. North Carolina — Raleigh, September 24. South Caro- 
lina — Summerton, October 10. Georgia — Macon, September 27. Ala- 
bama — Greensboro, September 17. Florida — Pensacola, September 


Casual records. — Two nests have been found near Augusta, Ga. ; 
at Point Pelee, Ontario, specimens were taken in April of 1909 and 
1917; one was collected at Appin, Ontario, on December 13, 1898; 
at Alton, N. H. a bird was shot on April 25, 1900 ; one was recorded 
at New Hamburg, Pa., on January 1, 1891; it was recorded on De- 
cember 22, 1890, at Washington, D. C, and there are several records of 
occurrence there from March to November but no record of breeding. 

Egg dates. — California : 120 records, March 26 to June 18 ; 60 rec- 
ords, April 17 to May 13, indicating the height of the season. 

Lower California : 7 records, April 11 to May 21. 

Missouri : 5 records, March 28 to June 17. 

Texas: 106 records, March 17 to July 22; 54 records, April 8 to 
May 10. 

Washington : 23 records, March 29 to June 27 ; 12 records, April 25 
to May 4 . 

West Virginia : 9 records, April 15 to June 8. 


One more race, an eastern one, is added to the long list of sub- 
species of this plastic species, to which Dr. John W. Aldrich (1944) 
has given the above name. He describes it as "similar to Thryomanes 
hewickii hewickii, but darker and more sooty (less rufescent). In 
fresh autumnal plumage : above near mummy brown instead of Prout's 
brown of Ridgway's 'Color Standards'. * * * There seems to be 
no significant size difference between this race and hewickiV 

"The breeding range," says Dr. Aldrich, "extends : north to north- 
eastern and central western Pennsylvania, and central Ohio, casually 
to central northern Ohio; west to southwestern Ohio, southeastern 
Kentucky, east central Tennessee, and northwestern Alabama ; south 
to central Alabama, north central Georgia, and central South Caro- 
lina; and east to central South Carolina, central and northeastern 
Virginia, southern New Jersey (casually), and northeastern Penn- 
sylvania," It winters north to near northern limit of breeding range ; 
south to northern Florida and the Gulf coast; and west to north- 
eastern Texas." 




The wrens of this group, ranging from Kansas through Texas to 
Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, in Mexico, have been given the above 
name. The subspecies is described by Eidgway (1904) as "similar to 


T. h. hewickii but decidedly larger, tail relatively longer (averaging 
equal to or longer than wing instead of distinctly shorter) , and colora- 
tion grayer above (broccoli brown to a more decided brown hue), and 
whiter beneath, with blackish bars on under tail-coverts much 

The haunts and habits of the Texas wren are not much different from 
those of its eastern relative. George F. Simmons (1925) includes the 
following in his list of its habitats around Austin, Tex, : "Usually 
broken country, almost always near civilization; * * * old pas- 
tures dotted with brush heaps and lined with brush fences ; cut-over 
woods ; * * * thickets and beds of cactus in mesquite and cactus 
country; brush heaps and thickets along creeks; dense cedar brakes 
on the hills ; along rathei' open creek valleys, on slopes and hills, and 
in semi-open country, but never in dense bottom woods or on extreme 
open country; about barns, deserted houses, wood piles and brush 
heaps. * * * The commonest local wren, a pair in nearly every 

We found this wren to be a common resident about the city of 
Brownsville, in the rural districts surrounding it, in the open country 
about the ranches, and in the chaparral and pricklypear thickets. 
Other observers seem to have had the same experience with it there. 

Edwin V. Miller (1941) says that "at Chipinque, Nuevo Leon, at 
4,000 feet, the wrens' habitat consisted of large oaks, pines and other 
trees, with a thick undergrowth of brush; in the same habitat were 
Whip-poor-wills and Couch Jays." 

Nesting. — The Texas wren builds its nest in just such a variety of 
situations as its eastern relative and in similar places. The only nest 
we saw was found beside the road as we were driving out from Browns- 
ville ; it was built behind a blind on a deserted house, and contained a 
brood of young on May 24, 1923, George B. Sennett (1879) says that 
"a pair of them built their nest between the ridge-pole and thatching of 
the roof of a corn-crib which we occupied in preparing our specimens, 
and almost over our heads. They were so tame as to hop about among 
the cotton, tow, papers, etc., on our benches, within a few feet of us, 
and take whatever pleased them," He found another nest "in a brush 
fence at Lomita Ranch. The nest was quite simple, being but a handful 
of hair, leaves, feathers, cotton, and fine bark matted together." Re- 
ferring to the same general region about Brownsville, Dr. James C. 
Merrill (1878) says: "Its nests are placed in a variety of situations. 
I have found them in an old Woodpecker's nest, placed between three or 
four joints of the prickly pear, forming a bulky structure, and among 
the twigs of various thorny bushes." 

Mr. Simmons (1925) says that, in the Austin region, the nest may be 
placed anywhere from 3 inches to 25 feet, but usually about 6 feet, 
above ground. He mentions a number of nesting sites similar to those 


chosen by Bewick's wrens elsewhere and adds a few unusual sites, such 
as broken bottles on shelves in sheds, old cow skulls in pastures, old 
hats in sheds, and old oriole and mockingbird nests. Others have 
found this wren nesting in old nests of the cactus wren and verdin ; 
Harry P. Atwater (1887) has seen several such. He relates the follow- 
ing story : "I once told a little boy to put an old tin can in a brush heap 
and perhaps a bird would make a nest in it for him. About a week 
after I was surprised when the boy came and told me the bird had 
done so and laid an egg in it. * * * On finding the nest the eve- 
ning before, the boy had taken the can with him to the house with the 
egg and bird in it, and after showing it to his folks had placed it in 
another brush heap close to the house. Six eggs were laid in this nest, 
and the can containing bird, eggs and nest taken into the house on 
several occasions after dark to show to people. Finally on one occasion 
the eggs were broken in handling and the nest deserted." 

Margaret Morse Nice (1931) watched a pair of Texas wrens build- 
ing their nest, in Oklahoma ; she gives the following account of their 
activity : 

On April 18, 1926, a pair of Texas "Wrens were building with great enthusi- 
asm in one of our bird boxes ; in 3% hours tliey made 239 trips — slightly more 
than one a minute. Their best record was 20 trips in 6 minutes. Both labored 
most of the time. The male was so busy that he only sang 17 songs during the 
period I watched. Two sample minutes will give an idea of their energy. 
9 : 49. Both wrens coming to box, one goes in with a big twig, other says, jce, jee, 
jee, gives its twig to the bird inside, leaves, is back with a rag which it pushes 
part way in, saying jee, jee, leaves. 1 : 57. Bird goes in with dead leaf, out 
again ; other goes in with grass root, out ; tirst enters with dead grass, out ; 
other in with twig, out. 

Mr. Simmons (1925) says that the nest is a "large, compact struc- 
ture, top level and open above; composed of a mass of rubbish, prin- 
cipally cedar bark strips, small short sticks and twigs, dead leaves, 
bits of twine, and chicken feathers, with the occasional use of horse- 
hair, cowhair, grass, weed stems, rootlets, oak blossoms, cast-off snake 
skin, cotton waste, leaf skeletons, spider webs, cobwebs, caterpillar 
cocoons, paper, and bits of corn husks. Cedar bark and twigs are 
usually interlocked and moulded into a strong, symmetrical nest with 
deep, well constructed cup." 

Eggs. — The Texas wren sometimes lays as many as nine eggs, but 
the usual set consists of six or seven. These are practically indistin- 
guishable from those of Bewick's wren, showing the usual variations ; 
some are more heavily marked with larger and more confluent spots, 
especially about the larger end. The measurements of 40 eggs in the 
United States National Museum average 16.2 by 12.7 millimeters ; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.8 by 13.2, 16.4 by 13.2, 
14.6 by 12.0, and 15.8 by 11.7 millimeters. 

The food, behavior, and voice of the Texas wren apparently do not 


differ materially from those of the species elsewhere. Mr. Simmons 
(1925) says that it "sings throughout the year, winter as well as sum- 
mer." The song reminds him of the song of the western lark spar- 
row, in its buzzing quality. Dr. Friedmann (1929) reports that Roy 
W. Quillen, of San Antonio, told him that he had found eggs of the 
eastern cowbird in a number of nests of this wren, and that, near 
Brownsville, Dr. A. H. Cordier found a nest "containing three eggs 
of the Red-Eyed Cowbird and one of the Wren's. The female Wren 
was sitting on the eggs. The next day all three eggs hatched and 
two days later the nest and young were destroyed by a skunk." 



Plate 35 


This is the desert wren of the Southwestern States and parts of 
Mexico, ranging from Colorado, southern Utah, southern Nevada, 
and southeastern California southward, through Arizona, New 
Mexico, and extreme western Texas, to Coahuila, Durango, and Za- 

Ridgway ( 1904) describes this race as "similar to T. h. cryptus^ but 
decidedly grayer above (hair brown, approaching broccoli brown in 
some winter specimens) ; upper tail-coverts and middle rectrices 
clearer gray; under parts still whiter, the sides more faintly tinged 
with brownish gray, the under tail-coverts more purely white and 
narrowly barred with black; wing and tail slightly longer, bill de- 
cidedly longer, midle toe shorter." 

Referring to Moffat County in northwestern Colorado, Russell W. 
Hendee (1929) writes: "While frequently reported from the juniper 
and pinyon region of southern Colorado, the Baird Wren has seldom 
been recorded from the northern part of the State. However, we found 
this species among the commonest of the breeding birds of the junipers 
near the Sand-wash [a dry valley]. A few were seen among the trees 
on the ridges near the river, but the birds were much more numerous 
in the more arid region to the westward." 

In Arizona we found Baird's wren in the Huachuca and Catalina 
Mountains, in the lower portions of the canyons up to 6,000 feet, 
chiefly in the live-oak associations near the mouths of the canyons and 
on the low foothills. It was common, also, in the mesquite forest, in 
the valley of the Santa Cruz River, where there were many large 
trees and plenty of underbrush. In New Mexico and Texas its dis- 
tribution seems to be about the same, mainly between 4,000 and 6,000 
feet in the mountains, rarely up to 7,000 feet. 


Nesting. — We did not succeed in finding a nest of this wren in Ari- 
zona, but my companion, Frank C. Willard, told me that he once found 
a nest in the fold of a piece of burlap that was being used as an awn- 
ing on a house in the Huachuca Mountains. Mr. Swarth (1904b) says 
that the nest is quite difficult to find and that he saw only three or 
four in this region, "all built in cavities in the trees, from six to fifteen 
feet from the ground." 

Dr. Coues (1882) found a nest in northern Arizona that was "in the 
hollow end of a blasted horizontal bough" of a cedar, "about eight 
feet from the ground." The nest "rested upon the horizontal floor 
of the cavity, upon a bed of wood-mould and cedar-berries, about a 
foot from the ragged entrance of the hollow. It was a neat structure, 
about 4 inches across outside, by half as much in internal diameter, 
cupped to a depth of an inch and a half. Outside was a wall of small 
cedar twigs interlaced, and next came a layer of finely frayed inner 
bark strips from the same tree ; but the bulk of the nest consisted of 
matted rabbit-fur stuck full of feathers, among which those of the 
Carolina Dove were conspicuous." 

Mr. Hendee (1929) found two nests in northwestern Colorado, of 
which he says : "A fresh nest, empty, was found on May 19. The first 
^g^ was laid about a week later and the set of six was completed on 
May 31. The nest was composed mostly of wool and feathers and a 
few small pieces of paper, loosely piled in a natural cavity in a juniper 
tree, about 2 feet from the ground. The opening was very small. A 
second nest was found on June 3. It was placed in a dead juniper 
branch about 5 inches in diameter, the opening, caused by the break- 
ing oif of a small branch, being about an inch in diameter at the widest 
point. The five eggs in this nest were hatching when it was visited 
on the following day." 

Eggs. — The eggs of Baird's wren are typical of the species, with 
the usual variations. The measurements of 40 eggs average 16.5 by 
12.8 millimeters; and eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.8 
by 13.0, 17.0 by 14.3, and 14.1 by 11.9 millimeters. 

Plvmages. — Dr. Oberholser (1898) says: "Young birds of eremo- 
philus range in color above from a light rufescent gray, hardly dis- 
tinguishable from the shade of young cryptics, to a very dark, dull 
brownish gray; averaging, however, very much darker than the 
Texan form. Many of the specimens are fully as deeply colored 
as the young af charienturus, though averaging rather less rufescent." 

Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) found in their series of 29 adults, 
collected in Brewster County, Tex., between February 28 and May 26, 
two "well marked color phases, a gray and a brown one. * * * 
We cannot distinguish brown-phase Brewster County specimens 
from comparable Arizona and New Mexico specimens." 


Enemies. — Probably these wrens are preyed upon by the usual 
predatory birds and mammals, but two reported cases are worth 
mentioning. Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) state that a "Baird's 
Wren was found in the stomach of a Roadrunner." And Mrs. Bailey 
(1928) says that Major Goldman found a dead wren "in the mouth 
of a rattlesnake that had just killed it." 

Winter. — ^Dr. Grinnell (1914) found the desert Bewick wren to 
be common as a Avinter visitant in the lower Colorado Valley, in 
southeastern California ; he says that it was "observed chiefly in the 
sparse brush margining the washes leading down from the desert 
interior. The catclaw and larger creosote bushes appeared to afford 
both productive foraging grounds and safe retreats. It was rarely 
that this wren was seen near the river, and then only as far as the 
salt-bush belt. The range of the western house wren in tlie willow 
association appeared to be not at all impinged upon by that of the 
desert Bewick wren. This again shows the local dissociation of 
birds of the same or nearly the same habits, even in their winter 
habitats. It is to be inferred that there are inherent preferences of 
the two species for cover of the two different sorts." 



Plate 36 


For a comparatively short distance along the humid northwest 
coast, from southern British Columbia to Oregon, we find this some- 
what larger and darker subspecies. It does not seem to be much 
darker or browner than its nearest neighbor on the coast, marinensis, 
but its size is greater. 

Before Dr. Oberholser (1898) wrote his paper on this group, spilurus 
was supposed to range north to, at least, Marin County, the type locality 
of marinensis. He naturally wrote at that time, regarding caloplionus : 
"It differs from spilurus., its nearest ally, in conspicuously larger bill, 
besides averaging greater in all its other measurements. The upper 
surface seems to be usually rather deeper and richer brown ; the flanks 
somewhat more rufescent. From hewickii, calophonus is easily dis- 
tinguished by deeper, more sooty brown above, much darker sides 
and flanks, wider superciliary stripe, longer bill, tarsus and middle 

Wlien I was in Seattle, in 1911, these wrens were common on the 
partially wooded campus of the University of Washington, especiallj^ 
in the ravines and on the brushy slopes. We saw them almost daily 
in the partially cleared woodlands around Kirkland, and on the 


wooded islands in the lake. S. F. Rathbun says, in his notes, that 
the Seattle wren is "partial to a somewhat rough country, to open 
second growth, and about the edges of the cleared spaces among the 
debris on the ground, particularly if there exists a confusion of fallen 
limbs. A section of cleared forest in the transitorj'^ stage toward being 
utilized, but as yet in a quite rough condition, will be found a favorite 
spot for this wren, especially if open enough to admit considerable 
light and sunshine." 

Nesting. — The only nest that I saw was found near Kirkland, Wash., 
on May 10, 1911; it was placed in a natural cavity in the upturned 
roots of a fallen tree ; as it contained five young birds, almost ready 
to fly, it was not examined closely. Mr. Rathbun tells me that this 
is one of the favorite spots among a variety of sites chosen ; one nest 
that he describes in his notes was in such a situation ; it was built into 
the cavity left where a stone had been lifted with the roots and then 
fallen out ; it was made outwardly of small twigs, pieces of moss, root- 
lets, sheep wool, fibrous strips of dead stalks of various plants, and 
some bits of dead leaves, some of this material being somewhat inter- 
laced ; it was lined with fine plant fibers and soft feathers, including 
some of the mountain quail, a few pieces of snakeskin, and a few horse- 
hairs. The nest measured 3 inches high and 5 inches in diameter ex- 
ternally; the inner cavity was 2 inches in diameter and li^ inches 

J. H. Bowles (Dawson and Bowles, 1909) writes: 

The building sites chosen by this wren for its nests are so variable that hardly 
anything can be considered typical. It may be in the wildest swampy wood 
far removed from civilization, but it is quite as likely to be found in a house in 
the heart of a city. A few of the nesting sites I have recorded are in upturned 
roots of fallen trees, deserted woodpecker holes, in bird boxes in the city, In 
a fishing creel hanging on a porch, under a slab of bark that has scaled away 
a few inches from the body of a tree, or an open nest on a beam under a bridge. 

A very complete study of this wren has convinced me that it never builds 
any nests except those used in raising the young. In other words, it is the only 
wren in the Northwest that is positively guiltless of using "decoys." 

Eggs. — Mr. Bowles (Dawson and Bowles, 1909), who has had con- 
siderable experience with the Seattle wren, says : "A set contains from 
four to six eggs, most commonly five. These are pure white in ground 
color, marked with fine dots of reddish brown. The markings are 
variable in distribution, some specimens being marked very sparingly 
over all, while in others the markings are largely concentrated around 
the larger end in the form of a more or less confluent ring. The eggs 
are rather short ovate oval in shape, and average in measurements 
0.68X0.54 inch. 

"Two broods are reared in a season; or perhaps it would be more 
correct to say that fresh eggs may be found at any time between the 
middle of April and the middle of June." 


The measurements of 27 eggs average 17.2 by 13.3 millimeters ; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 18.3 by 13.2, 16.3 by 14.0, 
15.7 by 13.5, and 17.7 by 12.8 millimeters. 

Beha/vior. — Theed Pearse has sent me the following notes on the 
territorial behavior of this wren : "A question of territory arose be- 
tween a pair of Seattle wrens that were nesting and an incoming 
house wren that had nested nearby for some years. The house wren 
on arrival investigated the garden and met the Seattle wren, both 
birds alighting on a dividing fence ; the Seattle wren cackled, but noth- 
ing further happened; the house wrens absolutely recognized that 
beyond this line was the territory of the others ; and, until the Seattle 
wrens had finished nesting operations, they never passed that line and 
always flew on the other side of the house," He noted once that some 
violet-green swallows ousted some Seattle wrens from a partially 
built nest. 

Voice. — Mr. Rathbun tells me that this wren begins to sing as soon 
as winter breaks early in March, continuing well into July, intermit- 
tently in August, and at odd times in autumn; sometimes it sings 
on the pleasant days in winter, if the weather is mild. Early in 
spring it begins shortly after daybreak and will sing more or less 
continuously, sometimes for an hour or so. "At this time the rendi- 
tions follow each other closely, spaced by a few seconds only. After 
this morning burst of singing wanes, the wren sings at odd times 
throughout the day. The song so often sung at this period is the one 
which has four notes, given in a chanted manner as it were." 

W. L, Dawson (Dawson and Bowles, 1909) writes: "To those who 
are acquainted only with the typical Bewick Wren of the East, the 
added vocal accomplishments of our western representative come in 
the nature of a surprise. For the characteristic ditty of hewickii 
proper, calojjhonus has introduced so many trills and flourishes that 
the original motif is almost lost to sight. Calophonus means having 
a beautiful voice, or sweetly sounding, and right well does the bird 
deserve the name, in a region which is all too conspicuous for its 
lack of notable songsters." 

I cannot quite agree with that last phrase, as there are many fine 
singers west of the Rockies. 

Theed Pearse writes to me that he has heard the Seattle wren 
mimicking the spring note of the chickadee so correctly that he did 
not recognize it as mimicry until the wren broke into its reguhir song. 

Winter. — Mr. Pearse tells me that, even as far north as Vancouver 
Island, this wren appears to be "very sedentary" all through the 
year; but the cold winters of 1937-38 and 1938-39 practically ex- 
terminated it, and not until 1941 could it be said to have recovered 
average numbers. 



Dr. Oberholser (1932) describes this wren as "similar to Thryo- 
manes hewickli drymoeciis from the San Joaquin Valley, California, 
but much less rufescent (more grayish) above; somewhat darker; 
and averaging larger. * * * Resident in central southern Ore- 
gon, from the Warner Valley west to Medford and Ashland, and 
north to Gold Hill." 

"This new race," says Oberholser, "is most typical in the Warner 
Valley. Birds from localities west to Gold Hill, Ashland, Keno, and 
Klamath Falls are somewhat rufescent above, thus inclining a little 
toward the race occupying the coast of Oregon. Compared with 
ThryoTJianes hewickii calophonus the present form is so much smaller 
and more grayish that it needs no special comparison. Altogether a 
series of 20 examples has been available." 




On the humid coast belt of southwestern Oregon and northwestern 
California, we have a wren that Dr. Grinnell (1910) describes as 
"similar to T. h. spilurus (Vigors), of the Santa Cruz faunal area 
south and east of San Francisco Bay, in size, but dorsal coloration 
brighter brown, of a Vandyke tone, and flanks and light intervals on 
crissum strongly washed with vandyke brown. Similar to T. h. calo- 
phonus Oberholser, of western Washington and Oregon, but dorsal 
coloration brighter brown, of a less sooty tone, and size decidedly 
less." He gives the range as Marin and Sonoma Counties, Calif., 
and remarks that he had not seen any specimens from the more north- 
ern coast region of California. The range of this form is now con- 
sidered to extend into Oregon. Here we have a race, intermediate in 
range, like its southern neighbor in size and somewhat like its north- 
ern neighbor in coloration, yet not strictly intermediate in both char- 

As it lives in a somewhat similar environment and is evidently very 
closely related to these two adjacent races, we could hardly expect to 
find much difference in its habits. Practically nothing has been pub- 
lished on its habits that is in any way peculiar to it. 

Robert R. Talmadge writes to me : "This form of the Bewick wren 
is a rare breeder in Humboldt County. I have found it breeding only 
on the lower bars of the Eel and the Van Duzen Rivers. In both of 
these localities the bars have a lieavy growth of alder, cottonwood, wil- 
low, blackberries, and grasses. Among this growth are many drift 


logs and stumps, brought clown by the high water. It is among the 
tangled roots and natural cavities of these stumps that this wren 

The eggs of the Nicasio wren are apparently no different from 
those of the other races of this species. The measurements of 26 eggs 
average 1G.7 by 12.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 18.5 by 13.5, 16.1 by 13.9, 14.6 by 12.5, and 1G.3 by 11.9 




This was the first of the western races of Bewick's wrens to be de- 
scribed and named. The other races have all been separated since 
about 1880; in our first Check-list, published in 1886, this and Baird's 
wren were the only western races included. The above name then 
covered all the wrens of this species inhabiting the Pacific slope of 
the United States, Baird's wren occupying the southwestern desert 
regions. This old name is now restricted to the wrens of a narrow 
range in west-central California, from San Francisco Bay to northern 
Monterey County. 

The distinguishing characters are thus described by Dr. Oberholser 
(1898) : '"''Thryomanes heivickii spilurus may be distinguished from 
hewickii by its duller brown upper surface, darker sides and flanks, 
broader superciliary stripe, shorter wing and tail, rather longer mid- 
dle toe and tarsus. It may be separated from charienturus by darker, 
decidedly more ruf escent flanks and upper parts and by shorter tail ; 
from drymoecus by the much darker color of sides, flanks and upper 

Mr. Swarth (1916) says of the characters of spilurus: "Most nearly 
like T. h. marinensis^ whose range adjoins that of spilurus at the north, 
but of lighter brown coloration dorsally, and of slightly greater size. 
Compared with drymoecus it is brighter reddish above. From chari- 
enturus it differs in deeper red coloration, and in different propor- 
tions. In spilurus the tail is slightly shorter than the wing ; in charien- 
turus the tail is longer than the wing." He admits that it is interme- 
diate in range and in characters between marinensis and charienfurus, 
both of which occupy much more extensive ranges. 

Edwin V. Miller (1941) has published an interesting paper on the 
habitats of several western races of this species and a long account 
of the behavior of Vigors's wren, from which much of Avhat follows has 
been taken, though space will not permit as full quotations as the ma- 
terial warrants. He says in a general way : "There are but few fea- 
tures of habitat common to all the races of Bewick wrens. Thick 
plant growth of a kind that will furnish the proper insect food seems 


to be the chief requisite. The kinds of plants in one part of the range 
of the species may be totally different from those in another part. The 
wrens may be found in trees more than 100 feet high or in brush not 
more than 3 feet high. In the Upper Sonoran Life-zone they are 
most abundant where the plant growth is thickest. They are par- 
ticularly noted for their preference for mixed brush." 

It appears from his accounts, and the statements of others, that the 
western races are less domestic than the eastern race, and are more 
abundant in brushy areas away from human habitations. Chaparral- 
covered hills abound throughout the range of Vigors's wren, and it is 
there that the wrens are found in greatest numbers, where they find 
an abundant food supply and suitable nesting sites. But they are 
also found to some extent in other situations. '"On the north-facing 
slope" of Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley, "the wrens are common, 
being found in chaparral, mixed brush and oak, and in pure stands 
of Monterey cypress and Douglas fir, without underbrush. In the 
chaparral association, baccharis is the dominant plant, forming dense 
stands of 4 to G feet in height. In the mixed brush and oak region 
the height of the plant cover is anywhere from 1 to 30 or 40 feet." 

Mr. Miller (1941) determined to his own satisfaction that the males 
establish and maintain definite territories during the breeding season, 
and perhaps to a less extent at other seasons ; he says : 

Bewick Wrens are found throughout the year either singly or in pairs. Most 
commonly the males appear on territories in the early spring and are mated 
shortly afterward. Males of T. &. spilurus show territorial reactions toward 
other males at any time of the year, although much more frequently in the spring. 
Females show no sucli reactions toward males, at least, and probably have no part 
in the defense of territory. Males and mated pairs have territories in the spring 
and may possibly have them in the winter. The territories of several wrens were 
mapped ; they proved to be about 50 yards wide by 100 yards long. * * * The 
limits of these territories did not vary more than a few feet from day to day. The 
males of these areas exhibited strong reactions toward other males adjacent to 
them. When two males happened to meet on a boundary, they would stop forag- 
ing, sing, and give harsh vocal utterances, and follow each other along the edge of 
their territories. Males would often stop foraging and hurry to their boundaries 
when they heard another male nearby. 

Nesting. — The same observer states that "Bewick Wrens' nests are 
placed in secluded cavities in or near the ground. Each nest has a well 
defined cup of soft materials and usually has a base of small twigs. 
Most nests are open above ; rarely they are arched over the top. The 
male may develop slight nest-building instincts before he is mated, but 
in most instances nests are not built until the female is present. Both 
mates may build the nest, although the male works sporadically, and 
the female often builds alone. Usually only one nest is built, although 
some authors state that several are sometimes begun. * * * The 
nest may be built in 10 days and the eggs may be laid in 6 days." 


Mrs. Amelia S. Allen writes to me : "The Vigors wren is perhaps, 
next to the California quail and the spotted towhee, the most abundant 
resident species in Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley. It comes back 
again and again to the same nest hole, which it often visits as early as 
the first week in February. On March 15, 1928, 1 found one taking the 
fur from a rabbit skin that had been thrown into a tree and carrying it 
into a hole at the very bottom of a live oak. In 1919 a pair brought up 
a brood in a big flicker box that stood on a wall near our front door 
waiting to be placed in its permanent position. In 1936 a pair nested 
in the same box in a position near a second-story window." 

Dawson (1923) says of the nesting site: "A cranny of suitable size 
is the sine qua non, and this may be in a rock-pile, in a canyon wall, in 
an old woodpecker hole, in the mouth of an old tunnel of a Rough- 
winged Swallow, under a root, behind a sprung bark-scale, in an old 
shoe or a tin can, or the pocket of a disused coat." Nests have been 
found also in empty boxes or small baskets left lying around, in wood 
piles, behind the lattice on a porch, under a tile on the roof of a house, 
in trash piles, in cavities on cliffs, and behind bunches of sprouts or 
leaves on the trunk of a tree. 

Dawson (1923) says the nests are made "basally of sticks, twigs, 
weedstems, grasses, bark, or moss; lining of fine grasses, hair, fur, or 
feathers." Various other materials enter into the composition of the 
nests, such as fine rootlets, dry leaves, wool, cotton, spider nests, horse- 
hair, and sometimes bits of snakeskin ; probably any soft pliable mate- 
rial will do. 

Eggs. — Mr. Miller (1941) says: "Three females were observed to 
lay their eggs early in the morning; each female laid at about the 
same time each day. Two sets of eggs usually are laid, with from 
three to eight eggs per set; six is the most common number." The 
eggs are practically indistinguishable from those of the other races 
of the species, being white, with scattered fine dots of reddish brown 
or cinnamon, and sometimes a few shell markings of pale drab ; some 
are nearly immaculate. The measurements of 40 eggs average 16.6 by 
12.8 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 18.0 by 
12.5, 17.0 by 14.0, 15.2 by 12.7, and 15.2 by 12.2 millimeters. 

Young. — Observations made by Mr. Miller (1941) "seem to warrant 
the conclusion that the female does all the incubation, at least in the 
early stages. She leaves the nest for short periods to forage and to 
be fed by the male. The male may also feed her at the nest. * * * 
The periods of incubation and nestling life are about 14 days each. 
The parents probably care for the young for about 2 weeks after the 
latter leave the nest. * * * The total nesting cycle is about 58 
days in length." 

Food. — Professor Beal (1907) examined the stomachs of 146 speci- 


mens of the California races of Bewick's wrens, taken in every month 
of the year. A little more than 97 percent of the food consisted of 
insects and less than 3 percent of vegetable matter. Six stomachs 
contained seeds, and one held what was supposed to be fruit pulp. Of 
the animal food, various bugs (Hemiptera) were the largest item, 31 
percent; these included the black olive scale, a very injurious species, 
leaf bugs, stink bugs, shield bugs, leaf hoppers, treehoppers, and jump- 
ing plant lice. Beetles (Coleoptera) amounted to over 21 percent of 
the food; ladybirds were the only useful beetles eaten, but they 
amounted to only 3 percent, against 10 percent of harmful weevils ; the 
stomachs of two wrens contained 85 and 80 percent of engraver beetles, 
which live under the bark of trees and do much damage to the timber ; 
other beetles, mostly leaf beetles, were eaten to the extent of 8 percent. 
Ants formed about 7 percent and wasps 10 percent of the food. Cater- 
pillars and a few moths and some cocoons constituted a little less than 
12 percent and grasshoppers 4 percent of the wren's diet. Very few 
flies were eaten, and spiders made up more than 5 percent of the 
total food. 

Eegarding the feeding habits of Vigors's wrens, Mr. Miller (1941) 
writes: "Foraging takes place on the ground and on the limbs and 
foliage of bushes and trees. In foraging, the birds use their bill for 
picking insects off leaves and branches, for flicking over leaves on 
the ground and, less commonly, for digging insects from cracks in 
bark. They do not scratch for food. They forage rapidly, and this 
activity takes up the larger part of their time. The method of forag- 
ing varies in accordance with the size and distribution of the plants 
in their habitat. In early spring the male of a mated pair forages 
high up in brush and trees, and his mate forages low down in brush 
and weeds." 

Behavior. — ^Mr. Miller says: "The relations of Bewick Wrens to 
other vertebrate animals of their habitat are mostly neutral. They 
probably are preyed upon to a slight extent by bird-hawks and owls. 
Where the wrens nest about buildings in suburban areas, they some- 
times have conflicts over nesting sites with House Wrens, titmice, and 
other small birds. Under these circumstances the Bewick Wrens 
usually retreat. Some individuals have been found roosting in cav- 
ities. Bathing in both dust and water occurs." 

Laidlaw Williams (1941) has published an interesting paper on the 
roosting habits of chestnut-backed chickadees and Bewick's wrens. The 
wrens used two types of roosts, on the sides of buildings and beneath 
a canopy of fallen dead needles on a Monterey pine bough. On the 
side of one building the wren roosted in a vertical crack between two 
rustic slabs of bark, resting on a horizontal slab over a window ; on four 
rainy nights a wren roosted on a wire under the eaves of a house and 


leaned against the wall. In all cases the feathers of the rump were 
greatly ruffed out, showing the subterminal white spots. 

Voice. — The various call notes of Vigors's wren are apparently about 
the same as those of the eastern Bewick's wren ; the song is similar, 
certainly not inferior, and is said to show more versatility. Mr. Mil- 
ler (1941) says that "the songs of the wrens in Arizona, Texas, and 
northeastern Mexico differ noticeably from those of wrens along the 
coast of California. The songs of spllvrus and inarinensis are con- 
siderably more complex and varied" than those of the others. He 
says further : 

Ouly the males sing. Males, at least of the race spilnrns, do not sing through- 
out the year ; they cease for a month or two in late autuum. * * * Wrens in 
Strawberry Canyon generally perch on the outer small twigs near the top of a 
tree or bush. * * * I once saw a wren singing from four different perches in 
two minutes. Most of the wrens I have observed sing in about the following 
position : feet spread wide apart, tail horizontal, bill tilted slightly upward, wing 
tips a little beyond the body and a little below the level of the base of the tail. 
* * * Most authors speak of the tail hanging down in the manner of a 
thrasher, but I have not seen them sing in this posture more than with the tail 
horizontal, and I have even seen the tail erect during singing. 

Mrs. Amelia S. Allen says in her notes : "During the last week of 
July and throughout August, when most birds are silent, the Vigors 
wrens sing a very subdued song. After watching them for many 
years, I have come to the conclusion that the birds of the year begin 
to sing at that time. By the middle of September the full song is 

Winter. — At this season, Vigors's wrens, and probably others of the 
California races, are more widely distributed. Ralph Hoffmann (1927) 
says that "in the fall many Bewick Wrens move down from the 
chaparral slopes and inhabit shrubbery near habitations, though some 
stay in the canyons all winter. * * * The Bewick Wren in winter 
frequents the same places in the lowland which the House Wren 
occupies in summer; occasionally both are present at the same time." 

These fall and winter wanderings, not strictly migrations, carry the 
wrens quite down to the coast in suitable places, such as the Point Lobos 
Reserve on the coast of Monterey County, where the bird is almost 
unknown in summer. Here, according to Grinnell and Linsdale 
(1936), they were seen in "considerable numbers" all through winter, 
becoming common in September. They w^ere seen foraging in the 
lower branches of cypresses and pines, in the brush and grass, and 
on the ground among lupine and sage bushes. Other types of winter 
habitat were a "blackberry tangle along a fence; dead and living 
ceanothus on south-facing, chaparral-covered slope; thicket of live 
oak in low mat around base of pine; brush of buckwheat, monkey 
flower, sage, baccharis, and poison oak ; and low horehound mats." 





This subspecies occupies an extensive range in inland California, 
which Swarth (1916) outlines as follows: "The central portion of 
California; the Sacramento Valley, and northward at least to the 
Oregon boundary ; northeast to the Warner Mountains, on the Nevada 
boundary; the west slope of the central Sierra Nevada, everywhere 
below Transition ; southward over about the northern half of the San 
Joaquin Valley." 

He gives as its distinguishing characters : 

Compared with cJiarienturus [now called corrcctus], drymoectis has the upper 
surface darker and more rufcscent. The tail is somewhat shorter, and in differ- 
ent proportion to the wing. In charienturus the tail is slightly longer than the 
wing, in drymoecus slightly shorter. Compared with spilurus, the upper surface 
of drymoecus is a duller and less rich brown. In the juvenal plumage the 
character of intensity of rufescence of the upper surface is also apparent, young 
of drymoecus being less deeply colored than young of spilurus and marinensis 
on the one hand, and somewhat darker (though slightly so) than the young of 
cJiarienturus on the other. It is noteworthy in this regard that whereas in 
typical drymoecus (Sacramento Valley birds) the adults approach spilurus more 
nearly than they do charienturus, the juvenal plumage is but slightly different 
from the same stage in charienturus. 

Being centrally placed, this race naturally intergrades with each of 
the surrounding subspecies at their points of contact, making it difficult 
to draw hard and fast lines as to the limits of its distribution. 

Not much can be said about the haunts and habits of the San Joaquin 
wren beyond what has been written about the adjacent races, as the 
California races are all much alike in these matters. Keferring to the 
Yosemite region, Grinnell and Storer (1924) say that this wren "is 
common in the Upper Sonoran foothills, and some are to be found still 
farther to the west, in the San Joaquin Valley, in the bottom lands of 
the Merced and Tuolumne rivers. There are four species of wrens in 
the foothill country, yet no two meet each other in serious competition. 
The Caiion Wren is found on rocky caiion walls, the Rock Wren about 
earth bluffs and rocky outcrops, the House Wren in oak trees, whereas 
the San Joaquin Wren inhabits the mixed gi'owths comprising small 
trees and brush." 

John G. Tyler (1913) writes: "The nature of the country about 
Fresno is not such as to attract wrens of any kind in numbers. Wood 
sprites they are, and must have a well timbered country ; so it is not 
surprising that the present species occurs, within the range of this 
paper, principally along the San Joaquin and Kings rivers and at the 
mouth of one or two of the creeks that lead down out of the hills. 
From these places they make somewhat extended visits to other parts 

7580GC— 4S 14 


of the valley during the winter months, and are sometimes encountered 
in brush piles along the canals and ditches. Here they climb over logs, 
dodge into brush heaps, or pry into the holes in partly dead willows, 
picking up from such places whatever offers in the way of food." 

Four eggs of this wren in the United States National Museum 
measure 17.8 by 13.2, 16.5 by 12.7, 16.5 by 12.8, and 16.6 by 12.5 milli- 




The above name is the result of an unfortunate shift of names, which 
Dr. Grinnell (1928) found necessary. This is the race of the San 
Diegan region that Dr. Oberholser (1898) and Mr. Swarth (1916) 
called charienturus. Dr. Grinnell discovered that wrens from the type 
locality of charientuims^ in northern Baja California, were "almost in- 
distinguishable from the San Pedro Martir race." This made it neces- 
sary to transfer the name charienturus to the wrens of the San Pedro 
Martir region and adjacent portions of northwestern Baja California 
and to invent a new name for the wrens of the San Diegan district; 
he promptly "corrected" the error by naming it correctus! He gives 
the characters of correctus^ "as compared with T. h. drymoecus^ dorsal 
tone of coloration decidedly lighter, 'warmer' brown, light bars on 
tail paler, and tail longer." 

The 1931 Check-list gives the range of the San Diego wren as, "coastal 
belt of California from the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, in San 
Benito and Monterey counties, southeast through the San Diegan dis- 
trict to near the Mexican boundary." 

In a general way, the haunts and habits of the San Diego wren are 
similar to those of the surrounding subspecies, but Harry H. Dunn 
(1902) gives a somewhat different impression of conditions in Orange 
County; he says: "Wlierever there are rocky canyons, particularly 
those which contain scattering pools of water, there will be found one 
or more pairs. * * * It is never found far from rocks, and, in so 
far as I am able to learn, never nests anywhere except in crevices of 
rocky ledges, interstices between boulders, or in small caves. * * * 
In many cases, especially where wood rats are abundant, the Wrens will 
select a crevice between two rocks, into which even a rat cannot go. 
* * * Where holes in the solid rock, as in the faces of numerous 
southern California cliffs, are available, however, the little pair will 
select a good sized cave and in its sandy floor scratch out a hole large 
enough to hold a loosely woven nest." Such nesting sites seem more 
characteristic of rock wrens or canyon wrens, but it seems hardly likely 
that he could have been mistaken. 

Eggs. — The eggs of the San Diego wren are apparently indistin- 


guishable from those of other races of the species. The measurements 
of 40 eggs average 16.7 by 12.8 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 18.9 by 14.3, 14.6 by 12.8, and 15.8 by 11.7 millimeters. 




In naming this as a new subspecies from Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa 
Islands, Dr. Oberholser (1898) says: "This new subspecies may be 
distinguished from charienturus [now called correctus] by the darker, 
more ruf escent coloration of the upper surface, sides and flanks ; the 
tail also averages appreciably shorter. It is noticeably lighter and 
rather more gi-ayish than spilurus, besides having a somewhat longer 
culmen. From drymoecus it is without difficulty separable by the 
noticeably darker and rather more sooty color of the flanks and upper 
surface. The tail also averages slightly shorter. * * * The young 
in first plumage are apparently not to be discriminated from those of 
charienturus^ though they perhaps average more rufescent. They are 
usually darker than the young of drymoecus.'''' 

In a later review of this group, Mr. Swarth (1916) says: 

The Santa Cruz Wren is apparently one of the most illy defined of any of the 
described forms of Thryomanes bewicki. The available series affords satis- 
factory material for comparison. * * * Judging from these specimens this 
island form has become but slightly differentiated from the mainland race. 
* * * It is perhaps noteworthy that the slight differences serving to distin- 
guish nesophilus from charienturus [now called correctus] are steps in the direc- 
tion of spilurus, the slightly more reddish dorsal coloration, darker flanks, and 
shorter tail, being just the characteristics encountered in birds occupying the 
intermediate coastal region between the ranges of charienturus and spilurus. The 
mainland nearest to Santa Cruz Island forms part of this intermediate region. 

The only information I have on the nesting of this subspecies is 
from the data on a set of six eggs in the Doe collection in Gainesville, 
Fla. This was taken by M. C. Badger on Santa Cruz Island, March 
31, 1935. It was from a nest of small twigs, grass, and plant down, 
well concealed and sunken into the ground beneath a fallen willow 

The eggs in this set measure 17.5 by 13.0, 17.5 by 12.7, 17.3 by 13.0, 
17.3 by 12.7, 16.8 by 13.0, and 16.8 by 12.7 millimeters. 




The Bewick's wrens of Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of south- 
ern California, were named by Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1910) and de- 
sctibed as "closely similar in color and general size to T. b. charien- 


tw^s Oberholser [now called con^ectus'], of the adjacent mainland, 
but averaging darker dorsally (more sepia and not so umber brown), 
and with heavier bill and conspicuously and constantly larger feet 
(longer toes and heavier tarsus) ; differs from T. h. leucophrys (An- 
thony), of San Clemente Island, in decidedly darker, less ashy colora- 
tion, and in much more heavily barred under tail-coverts; differs 
from 2\ h. nesophilus Oberholser, of Santa Cruz Island, in duller, less 
rufescent, coloration, grayer flanks, longer bill and generally larger 

He says that it is common on Santa Catalina Island and permanently 
resident. It does not seem to differ in any of its habits from the main- 
land forms of the species. 

There is a set of six eggs of this race in the collection of Charles E. 
Doe, of Gainesville, Fla. It was taken by J. S. Kowley on Santa Cata- 
lina Island, May 8, 1920. The nest was in a crevice of the "bark of 
a scrubby-like bush in the bottom of a gulch." 

The eggs in this set and five more in the Philipp collection, 11 in all, 
average in measurements 17.6 by 13.2 ; the eggs showing the four ex- 
tremes measure 18.3 by 13.5, 17.6 by 13.6, 16.8 by 13.0, and 17.8 by 12.7 




A. W. Anthony (1895a), with Dr. Edgar A. Mearns, collected a 
series of Bewick's wrens on San Clemente Island, off the extreme 
southern coast of California, from which this wren was described 
and named as a new species. Mr. Anthony describes it as "differing 
from T. spilurus in decided gray wash on the upper parts, in the 
less heavily barred under tail-coverts, and in having a somewhat 
longer bill." He says further : 

Although the present species is obvioiisly closely related to the mainland 
bird, * * * I gee no reason at present for regarding it as a subspecies of 
that form. San Clemente Island lies 75 miles from the mainland, and it is 
quite evident that the species does not intergrade through the other islands of 
the Santa Barbara group, as the Thryothorus from those islands proves to be 
no nearer related than does the mainland form. 

The differences are at once noticeable even at a glance ; the longer bill, the 
more purely white and much more conspicuous superciliary stripe, together 
with the more gray upper parts arc quite striking to one acquainted with the 
mainland bird. The species is quite common in the thick cactus and low brush 
on the south end of the island, but owing to its habits is quite difficult to 

A. Brazier Howell (1917) writes: 

These wrens are evenly distributed over San Clemente, frequenting the densest 
thorn bushes and cactus patches, from the tops of which their loud clear song, 
differing but little from that of the mainland bird, is given. Before one is within 


good range of them they will casually hop down into the lower cactus, and it 
is very hard indeed to make them show themselves again. If it is in a low 
bush that they disappear, no amount of trampling will bring a bird forth, but 
as soon as one steps off the bush, out he pops and away to another one. I shot 
a juvcnal with fully grown tail, April 2, 1915, and from then on the youngsters 
were not rare. The eggs have evidently never been discovered, but I believe 
that the nest is invariably built in the center of a dense patch of cactus. "While 
I was trying to remove a dead bird from such a place, on March 29, and smashing 
the cactus as I went, I uncovered an unfinished nest, probably pertaining to 
this species. It was wedged under and between cactus leaves some 8 inches 
above the ground, a 3-inch ball formed of soft fiber, and with the entrance on 
one side. Two days later when I returned, some little lining had been added, 
but the situation had beeu so disturbed that it was deserted before eggs were 




This is the wren that Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1927b) described as the 
race inhabiting "the San Quintin subfaunal district of northwestern 
Lower California." It ranges south to about latitude 30°. Dr. Grin- 
nell named it Thryomanes hewickii carbonarius, sooty Bewick wren, 
and described it as "similar to Thryomanes hewickii charientuinis 
Oberholser (from western San Diego County, Calif.) , but bill slightly 
smaller, and coloration grayer, more slaty (rather than brown), in 
many respects, as follows : bill, tarsus, toes and claws blackish, with 
no tinge of light brown ; sides of neck, sides of body, and flanks clearer 
gray ; top of head and whole dorsum darker, less warmly, brown ; dark 
portions of webs of all flight feathers darker, more slaty." 

But this first name for the race did not stand long, for Dr. Grinnell 
(1928) discovered that a shift of names was necessary. He found that 
the type of charienturus came from "Nachoguero Valley, in extreme 
northern Lower California a few miles southwest from Jacumba, San 
Diego County, Upper California. Fresh fall examples now at hand 
from exactly that locality show themselves to be, not as I had hereto- 
fore assumed they would be, of the San Diegan district race, but almost 
indistinguishable from the San Pedro Martir race. Hence it becomes 
necessary to use the name charienturus for the 'Sooty Bewick Wren' 
of the San Pedro Martirs and to invent a new name for the race of 
the San Diegan district." 

This shift may be a bit confusing and therefore unfortunate, but it 
was perfectly logical and proper. I cannot find that anything distinc- 
tive has been published on the habits of this subspecies. 

There is a set of six eggs of this wren in the Doe collection, taken 
by N. K. Carpenter, in the Nachoguero Valley, on April 27, 1937. The 
nest was in a bird box, 10 feet up in a live-oak tree, made of grass and 
twigs, and lined with snakeskin and feathers. 


The measurements of 18 eggs in the Doe, Hanna, and Philipp col- 
lections average 17.3 by 12.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 18.7 by 13.1, 16.4 by 12.6, and 16.5 by 12.2 millimeters. 




The Cedros Island wren has a rather restricted range on the island by 
that name and on the neighboring mainland of Baja California, in the 
middle of the peninsula, between latitudes 25° and 30°. 

A. W. Anthony (1897) , who named and described it as a new species, 
writes : 

The present species needs comparison with none of our western species of the 
genus unless it be T. leucophrys, from which it is very easily separated by its much 
shorter bill, as well as other discrepancies in size, as will be seen from the accom- 
panying table of measurements. From specimens before me taken at Rosalia Bay, 
55 miles east of Cerros Island, the new species is easily separated by much more 
extensively gray lower parts, less heavily barred. The lower tail-coverts, and its 
tail feathers have a terminal band of gray of not less than 4 millimeters, whereas 
the main land bird has a semiobsolete bar of about 1 millimeter. The middle 
rectrices are also less plainly barred in the mainland specimen, the bars becoming 
somewhat obsolete near the shaft. 

Cerros Island Wrens were not common at any point on the island, though more 
were seen about the pine timber on the higher ridges. 

Dr. Oberholser (1898) remarks: "The wide terminal band of gray 
on the tail-feathers and lower tail-coverts, which Mr. Anthony regards 
as a character separating the Cerros Island bird from charienturus, is 
a purely individual variation, and consequently of no diagnostic value. 
The same may be said of the indistinctness of the barring on the central 
rectrices, which is observable to a greater or less extent in all the forms 
of the genus." He says further, however: "The characters which 
separate this form from leucophrys are the darker upper parts, rather 
more deeply gray flanks, much shorter bill, appreciably shorter wing 
and tarsus." 

Comparing it with its nearest neighbor on the mainland, Ridgway 
(1904) says: "Similar to T. h. charienturus, but slightly smaller (the 
bill decidedly so) and coloration slightly paler and grayer." 

I can find nothing to add about the habits of this subspecies. 

Four eggs in the P. B. Philipp collection measure 17.7 by 12.6, 17.1 
by 12.7, 16.8 by 12.6, and 17.7 by 12.5 millimeters. 




This well-marked form lived and died on Guadalupe Island, off the 
coast of Baja California, where it is now evidently extinct. As this 


account is in the nature of an obituary notice, it seems worth while to 
quote rather freely from a historical sketch of the island and the bird, 
as published by A. W. Anthony (1901) ; he writes : 

What may have been the zoological condition of Guadalupe Island at the time 
of its discovery will probably never be known, but that it was to the botanist and 
zoologist a spot of surpassing interest and strikingly different from the island 
of today cannot be disputed. It was in 1875, when visited for the first time by a 
naturalist, found to be wonderfully rich in both plant and animal life. Not only 
were the species largely peculiar to the island and quite different from their main- 
land representatives but botanical genera were found that have since become 
extinct. * * * 

I have at the present writing no means of ascertaining when tlie domestic goat 
was introduced on the island but as it was placed on many of the coast islands 
by the early whalers it is not unlikely that this pest held sway on Guadalupe a 
half century or more before the richness of the flora and fauna was made known 
to the world by Dr. Edward Palmer in 1875. It is directly due to the despised 
Billy-goat that many interesting species of plants formerly abundant are now 
extinct, and also that one or more of the birds peculiar to the island has disap- 
peared, and others are rapidly following. 

Dr. Palmer collected only two specimens of this wren on Guadalupe, 
on which Mr. Ridgway (1876) named and described the species in 
detail, saying among other things that "this insular form is much 
grayer than the T. hewicki spilurus of California and Western Mexico." 
Later on (1904) he describes it as "practically identical in coloration 
with T. heioickii charlenturis [now called correctus^ except tail (the 
middle rectrices of which are more narrowly and nmch less distinctly 
barred), but much smaller, tail relatively shorter, and bill much 

Walter E. Bryant (1887) made two visits to Guadalupe in 1885, in 
Januai"y and December, remaining 3 months on the latter visit. He 
gives full description of the island which is situated 220 miles south- 
westward from San Diego and lies between latitudes 28°45' and 
29° 10' N. ; it is about 15 miles long and 5 miles wide at its widest part 
and is said to reach an altitude of 4,523 feet at the highest point. He 
collected seven specimens of this wren on February 16, 1886, four males 
and three females, and says : "This rare local species has become much 
restricted in distribution and perhaps in numbers since Dr. Palmer ob- 
tained the only two known specimens in 1875. I am informed that no 
collecting was done at that time among the pines on the northern por- 
tion of the island, in which place alone was I able to discover any trace 
of this species ; and as no collecting was done by Dr. Palmer among the 
palms (an unlikely place for the birds to be found), I infer that the 
two original specimens must have been found toward the central 
portion of the island." 

According to Mr. Anthony (1901) , the restricted area in which Mr. 
Bryant collected his specimens consisted of a growth of straggling 
pines along the sharp ridge of North Head, affording a habitat of about 
60 by 300 feet. He says: 


Fearing the extermination of the species the balance of the colony was unmo- 
lested, but as the sheltering undergrowth was more and more constricted by the 
goats the birds were either blown from the island by violent gales that frequently 
sweep over it, or killed by cats which infest the entire island since their introduc- 
tion about the time of Dr. Palmer's visit in 1875. The last week in May, 1892, 
Mr. Clark P. Streator, and myself paid a visit one day to the North Head. 

Near the beach and directly below the pines Mr. Streator took a pair of wrens 
which are now in the collection of the Biological Survey. On the ridge near 
the spot where Bryant found them, I discovered a bird which was secured, and 
saw what may have been a second but was of doubtful identity. Since that 
date I have made several calls at Guadalupe, and though the entire top of 
the island was carefully searched by myself and several assistants for days at 
a time we never found any signs of the species which must now be classed 
among those that were. 

The constant destruction of all low-growing vegetation by the goats still con- 
tinues, not only consuming the nesting sites and shelters of Junco, Pipilo and 
all ground-nesting species but giving to the ever watchful cat more favorable 
opportunities for destroying the few birds that are left. Pipilo consobrinus 
is now nearly or quite extinct and the juncos are surely but steadily becoming 
scarce. Since the goats kill all of the young trees as soon as they appear above 
ground, and the larger trees are dying, the outlook for the future flora and fauna 
is not bright. 

So, the Guadalupe wren probably disappeared entirely soon after 
1892, and another was added to our growing list of extinct species. 
This sad story should serve as a lesson to conservationists, a warning 
against over-grazing and the release of introduced animals and of 
feral cats, the latter becoming a serious menace anywhere. 

Nesting. — It seems that the nest of this wren has never been found ; 
this and the eggs will remain forever unknown. Mr. Bryant and his 
Mexican companion made a careful and protracted search for nests 
during the greater part of two days, but with no success. 

Plmnages. — The single young bird, now in the collection of the 
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is practically indistinguishable from 
the young of the San Diego wren, according to Oberholser (1808). 

Food. — The stomach of one of the birds collected by Dr. Palmer 
"contained remnants of some small black insects which feed upon the 
blossoms of the White Sage" (Ridgway, 1876). And Mr. Bryant 
(1887) found "insects and two pine seeds" in the stomach of one of 
his birds. 

Behavior- — Mr. Bryant (1887) says: "The birds were timid rather 
than shy, being alarmed by the crushing of dry branches as I worked 
my way amidst the dense windfalls of pines, where they w^cre found, 
they fled into the thickest parts. When all was quiet they would 
cautiously approach until within a few feet of me, seemingly prompted 
by curiosity. * * * ^ frightened female uttered a few 'twit' 
'twits' of alarm, but with this exception they were utterly silent." 




Plates 37, 38 


In attempting to compile the life histories of the wrens of this species, 
I have not overlooked and shall not attempt to criticize a recent import- 
ant paper on the geographical variation in the Carolina wren by George 
H. Lowery, Jr. (1940), in which he splits the species into eight sub- 
species, one of which is Mexican. This makes a rather large addition 
to the three races now recognized in our 1931 Check-list. Doubtless 
some of his races, perhaps all of them, are worthy of recognition in 
nomenclature. But, as the author does not claim to be a systematic 
ornithologist, it seems best for a work of this kind to follow the nomen- 
clature and classification of the latest Check-list, as has been done in 
previous volumes. 

I have always associated the Carolina wren with the sunny South, one 
of that happy trio of birds that are always ready to greet the northern 
bird lover with their loud cheery songs as he travels southward ; the 
songs of this wren, the tufted titmouse, and the cardinal have enough 
in common to confuse a newcomer when he hears them for the first time, 
but they are really different when carefully studied ; however, they are 
all delightful and give us a warm touch of southern hospitality, a 
hearty welcome to Dixie Land. 

But we cannot now regard the Carolina wren as exclusively a south- 
ern bird, for it seems to have been extending its range northward during 
the early part of the present century. The 1931 Check-list gave as the 
probable northern limits of its range "southeastern Nebraska, southern 
Iowa, Ohio, southern Pennsylvania, and lower Hudson and Connec- 
ticut valleys" and called it "casual or accidental in Wisconsin, Michi- 
gan, Ontario, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts." Dr. 
Charles W. Townsend (1909) has published an interesting paper on 
what he calls an invasion of this wren into New England, giving a large 
number of records for various States ; most of these are fall and winter 
records, but there are enough breeding records mentioned to indicate 
that the Carolina wren may be regarded as a rare breeding bird in at 
least southern New England. It has long been known to breed on 
Naushon Island, off the coast of southern Massachusetts; Forbush 
(1929) mentions several other Massachusetts breeding records, and 
lOiight (1908) records a breeding record for Maine. 

Dr. Chapman (1912) says of the haunts of the Carolina wren : "The 
cozy nooks and corners about the home of man which prove so attractive 
to the House Wren are less commonly chosen by this bird. His wild 


nature more often demands the freedom of the forests, and he shows no 
disposition to adapt himself to new conditions. Undergrowths near 
water, fallen tree tops, brush heaps, and rocky places in the woods 
where he can dodge in and out and in a twinkling appear or disappear 
like a feathered Jack-in-the-box, are the resorts he chooses." 

The last part of this statement is undoubtedly true, but there is 
plenty of evidence that he has learned "to adapt himself to new condi- 
tions." Milton P. Skinner (1928) , for example, says that, in the sand- 
hills of North Carolina, these wrens "are dwellers in the dooryards and 
about houses, more even than in wilder haunts. Almost all kinds of 
shrubbery attract them, but they like the thickest, thorny kind the best. 
While they are generally in the bushes and lower growth, they some- 
times go higher into trees, even as much as thirty feet above the 
ground." Arthur H. Howell (1924) says that, in Alabama, "although 
partial to low bottomland timber," it is "found also about farmyards 
and in town gardens. Indeed, so domestic is it at times that it is often 
called 'house wren'." Other observers give us similar impressions and 
the bird certainly shows considerable adaptability in its choice of a 
great variety of nesting sites about human structures. There is no 
doubt, however, that it has always shown a preference for the wilder 
woodland thickets, preferably along watercourses and in swamps, but 
also in hammocks and in isolated clumps of trees and bushes on the 
prairies and pine barrens throughout the South. 

Courtship. — I can find no information on this subject, but Mrs. 
Amelia R. Laskey has sent me some notes that indicate some degree of 
constancy. A male banded June 25, 1934, was recaptured at intervals 
until January 18, 1938 ; and a female banded November 19, 1934, was 
taken at intervals until the summer of 1939. Thus the male was at 
least 4^2 years old, and the female at least 5 years old. "Part of the 
period they are positively known to have been mates, as they wore 
colored plumes and were seen together in winter as well as in the nesting 
season." Others have noticed that they are often seen in pairs all 
through winter. 

Nesting. — The Carolina wren originally nested in woodlands, 
thickets, brushy hollows, and swamps and along the banks of streams, 
where it could find cover ; and it still does so over most of its range, 
without taking advantage of the many opportunities offered in and 
about human structures. In these wilder spots it may build its nest 
in a hole in a tree or stump, in the open crotch of a tree, in a densely 
branched cedar, in the upturned roots of a fallen tree, on the ground 
under the exposed roots of a tree or under dense undergrowth, in a 
hole in a bank or under its overhang among tangled roots, in a cavity 
in a stone wall, or even in a sheaf of grain in an open field. Nests in 
such situations are hard to find and are probably not so often reported 
as the more obvious sites about human dwellings. 


Most of the sites mentioned above are obviously at very low eleva- 
tions, seldom as much as 10 feet above ground, even in trees. But 
M. G. Vaiden, of Rosedale, Miss., writes to me of a nest that was "30 
feet up in a black walnut. This nest was extremely large and located 
on a partially broken-off limb growing upward and almost parallel 
to the main body of the tree. A few sprouts had grown out from the 
broken limb," which helped to prevent the nest from being blown 
away. "The nest was composed of dried leaves and sticks and lined 
with fowl feathers, forming a great ball with the entrance facing 
north and at the very center of the ball." Nests in such open situa- 
tions in trees are usually domed or arched over, with a side entrance. 

Nests of the more domestically inclined wrens have been reported 
in a great variety of nooks and crannies in, about, or under buildings 
of various kinds, under bridges, or in holes in fence posts. Almost 
any kind of receptacles left lying around, such as tin cans, coffee pots, 
pails, small baskets, pitchers, or empty boxes may be used. Old dis- 
carded hats and caps or the pockets of old clothes, coats, or overalls, 
left hanging in sheds or on porches, may offer acceptable nesting 
sites. Nests have been found in mail boxes, bird boxes, old hornets' 
nests, and ivy vines growing over porches ; and the nest is sometimes 
built in an unused cupboard or on a mantel shelf inside a house. 
Dr. Witmer Stone (1911) writes: "In a country place near Philadel- 
phia, a pair of Carolina Wrens entered the sitting-room through a 
window that was left partly open, and built their nest in the back of an 
upholstered sofa, entering where a hole had been torn in the back. 
Needless to say, they were not disturbed, and given full possession until 
the young were safely reared." Mr. Vaiden tells of a pair of these 
wrens that raised a brood of young "in the pitcher of a pitcher-pump," 
left in the basement of a house. "The parents came through the partl}^ 
opened basement window and gave little attention to the humans that 
had to occasionally go into the basement." 

Dr. George M. Sutton (1930) says that, in Brooke County, W. Va., 
"the bulky nests were found as a rule in out-buildings, and none was 
found in the woods far from a human dwelling. One nest was built 
in a rumpled paper sack which lay on a shelf in a woodshed. * * * 
A nest found in 1917 was built into the corner of a large drygoods 
box which had been nailed to the shadowy back of a barn." The 
cavity was far too big, but a large lot of material had been brought 
in and the structure was neat. "In front of the nest proper was a 
crude path of weed-stalks and leaves possibly eighteen inches in 
length. The entire nest with its approach could be lifted easily, so 
skilfully were the stalks and leaf stems interwoven." 

Clara Calhoun (1911) tells of a most interesting nest that was 
built "in a bolt-rack in a busy country blacksmith shop. * * * 
The mother bird knew no fear, but flew boldly about, gathering shav- 


ings and excelsior fairly under the smith's hands and feet, approach- 
ing the nest over a horse that was being shod, and often keeping 
her place upon it when the smith worked at the vise for welding 
tires, * * * undaunted by the ringing blows or showers of sparks." 
A brood of five young was raised in this nest. 

The Carolina wren is satisfied with almost any soft and pliable 
material that is available with which to build its nest, such as grasses, 
weed stalks, strips of inner bark, leaves, mosses, rootlets, and feathers; 
many nests contain pieces of cast-ofT snakeskin, and some are partially 
lined with this. The lining generally consists of fine grass, fine root- 
lets, hair, feathers, and sometimes Spanish moss. George F. Simmons 
( 1925 ) adds the following materials, used in Texas nests : Small twigs, 
corn husks, pieces of paper, string, thread, wool, rags, and leaf 

I am told that Herbert L. Stoddard has a record of a successful 
nesting in a farm tractor that was in daily use. 

Eggs. — The Carolina wren lays four to six eggs to a set ; probably 
five is the commonest number ; sets of eight have been recorded. These 
are mostly ovate but often more rounded and sometimes somewhat 
elongated. The ground color is usually pure white, but often pink- 
ish white or creamy white. They are usually more heavily marked 
with larger spots than other wrens' eggs, but not always, as some are 
very sparingly and faintly marked with fine dots. The markings may 
be evenly distributed, but generally tliey are irregularly scattered 
and often concentrated in a ring about the larger end. The markings 
are in several lighter and darker shades of reddish brown, and there 
are sometimes underlying blotches in light shades of "Quaker drab" 
or "lavender," producing a very pretty effect. 

The measurements of 60 eggs average 19.1 by 14.9 millimeters; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.8 by 15.2, 19.8 by 15.8, and 
16.8 by 14.2 millimeters. 

Young. — The period of incubation is said to be 12 to 14 days, and 
the young remain in the nest for about the same length of time. Evi- 
dently the task of incubation is performed wholly by the female ; at 
least I can find no evidence that the male ever incubates. But both 
parents work together industriously to feed the young, in the nest and 
for a time after they leave it. At least two broods are ordinarily 
raised in a season and often three in the more southern localities. 
Mcll wraith (1894) says that even in Ontario "the Carolina Wren is 
a very prolific species, the female turning over to the male the care 
of the first brood before they are able to shift for themselves, while 
she proceeds to deposit a second set of eggs in another nest, which 
the male has prepared for their reception. Family number two is 
turned over to the male in due course, and in this way three broods 
are raised during the season in a very short time." 


Phimagcs.— Soon after hatching the young wrens are scantily dec- 
orated with slate-colored down; the juvenal plumage develops rapidly 
and they are well clothed by the time they leave the nest. In the 
juvenal plumage young birds look much like the adults, but they are 
paler in color and the plumage is softer in texture ; the wing coverts 
are tipped with buffy white, the superciliary stripe is less clearly 
white, the underparts are whiter, and there is some dusky barring or 
mottling on the flanks and sides of the head. 

The first winter plumage is acquired by a partial postjuvenal molt 
in August and September, involving the contour plumage, the wing 
coverts, and the tail, but not the rest of the wings. This plumage 
is darker and richer in color than the juvenal plumage, chestnut or 
Vandyke brown above and deep cinnamon below, with white tips on 
the wing coverts and a whiter superciliary stripe, young and old be- 
coming practically indistinguishable. 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in August and September ; 
after this molt, in fresh fall plumage, all the colors are brighter and 
richer than in the worn and faded plumage seen in spring. The sexes 
are alike in all plumages. 

Food. — In his study of the food of the Carolina wren, Professor Beal 
(Beal, McAtee, and Kalmbach, 1916) examined 291 stomachs, repre- 
senting every month. The contents were found to consist of 94.18 
percent animal matter, nearly all insects, and 5.82 percent vegetable 
matter, chiefly seeds. Of the animal food, beetles made up 13.64 per- 
cent, all injurious except 1.71 percent of predatory ground beetles; 
among the beetles found were several species of weevils, including the 
cottonboll weevil, 31 individuals being found in 18 stomachs; other 
beetles were the two cucumber beetles, the bean leaf beetle, and numer- 
ous flea beetles. Of the Hymenoptera, ants amounted to 4.63 percent 
and bees and wasps to about the same. Hemiptera — stink bugs, soldier 
bugs, leaf -legged bugs, leafhoppers, and chinch bugs — made up 18.91 
percent, one of the largest items. Scale insects destructive to oranges 
were found in one stomach. The largest item of all proved to be 
caterpillars and a few moths, 21.73 percent. Orthoptera, including 
grasshoppers, crickets, and cockroaches and their eggs, made up 12.57 
percent of the food. Flies are evidently not popular, as the average 
for the year was only a little over 3 percent ; daddy-longlegs and crane- 
flies were the most popular. On the other hand, spiders seem to be 
very attractive; they were eaten in every month, and from April to 
August to the extent of 16.67 percent, and the average for the year 
was 10.54 percent; spiders must be easily obtained in the many nooks 
and crannies that the Carolina wren explores. Other small items of 
animal food included millipeds, sowbugs, and snails, "Vertebrate 
animals would hardly be expected to form part of the diet of so small 
a bird, but the Carolina wren eats them often. Kemains of lizards 


were found in 14 stomachs, tree frogs in 8, and a snake in 1 ; totaling 
1.92 percent." Of the vegetable food, a little fruit pulp was found in 
a few stomachs, seeds of bayberry in 20, sweet gum in 10, poison ivy 
in 7, sumac in 4, pine in 2, weed seeds in 7, and ground-up acorns in 2. 

Several observers have noted that Carolina wrens will come freely 
to feeding stations, if placed near brush piles, thickets, or other suit- 
able shelter, where they will feed on ground peanuts, suet, marrow of 
bones, or ground hamburg steak. 

Behavior. — Like others of its tribe, the Carolina wren is the embodi- 
ment of tireless energy and activity, seldom still for a moment, as he 
dodges in and out of the underbrush or creeps over and around a pile 
of logs, appearing and disappearing with the suddenness of a mouse, 
diving into one crevice in a wood pile, and popping out of another in 
some unexpected jjlace. His movements are exceedingly quick and sud- 
den, accompanied by frequent teetering of the body and nervous jerk- 
ing of the upturned tail, chattering to himself the while, or stopping 
occasionally to pour out one or two strains of his joyous song, for he 
is a merry little chap and seems to enjoy his elusive ways. We may 
watch him thus, if we stand quietly, but if we move toward him, he 
immediately darts into the thickest cover and disappears ; it is useless 
to pursue him, for he has a tantalizing way of keeping out of sight 
ahead of us and mocking us with his derisive chatter; he is more than 
a match for us in the game of hide and seek. C. J. Maynard (1896) 
says : "I have frequently seen these wrens in isolated bushes and, after 
seeing them vanish, have beat about the place where they disappeared, 
then through it without starting them, afterwards finding that the 
wily birds had escaped by running with great rapidity beneath the 
grass and weeds to the next thicket." 

Although this wren does not like to be pursued, or even approached 
too closely, he has sufficient curiosity and boldness to do his own ap- 
proaching. If we sit or stand still in some inconspicuous position, and 
especially if we make a squeaking noise, he will be one of the first 
birds to show himself and may come within a few feet of us to look 
us over ; but a move on our part causes him to vanish immediately. 

His shyness and timidity are apparent enough, especially in his 
woodland haunts, and it is difficult to surprise the female on her nest, 
from which she slips away quietly and unobserved. But the pair have 
often shown remarkable friendliness and confidence in human beings 
by building their nests in and about our premises, by coming to our 
feeding stations, and by roosting under the shelter of our homes. These 
wrens have been known to roost several times in abandoned hornets' 
nests; for example, Prof. Maurice Brooks (1932) writes: 

Some time during the fall of 1927 my father found, and carried to the house, 
a verp large nest built by white-faced hornets {Vespa maculata). This nest was 


hung up in an out-building, and no attention was paid to it until late in the 
winter when we found, to our surprise, that a pair of Carolina Wrens had en- 
larged the opening, and were using it as a nightly roosting place. 

The birds continued to roost there until spring ; when they carefully constructed 
a nest of their own, in the top of the hornets' nest, away from the opening. For 
some reason, they later abandoned this home in favor of one in a nearby bird box. 

When fall came we waited with interest to see if they would again take up their 
old abode. Going out to look one frosty morning before daylight, we heard them 
stirring in the nest, and they used it regularly from then on. This they have 
repeated every year until the present winter. 

Another nest was placed in the same building last fall, and the resident pair, 
whether or not the original 1927 individuals we do not know, immediately took 
up quarters in the enlarged opening of the new nest. In their new home they are 
plainly visible, and they have allowed us to study them with flashlights. They 
do not seem to be in the least disturbed when we suddenly turn a light upon 
them. The outer bird roosts with one wing spread across the opening, and this, 
perhaps, shuts out most of the light. 

One morning, just at daybreak, I went out to the building where the nests are 
hung, lighted a small gas stove, and placed before it a bucket of water over which 
a layer of ice had frozen. Returning in a few minutes, I found both birds perched 
on the rim of the bucket, as near to the fire as they could get. Whether the heat 
or the light was the attraction I cannot say, but they presented as charming a 
bird picture as I have ever seen. 

In The Migrant^ volume 14, pages 1-5, 1943, is a symposium on how 
birds spend their winter nights. In this the Carolina wren is reported 
as roosting in a pocket in a shirt that hung on a clothesline, in a fold of 
an old portiere hanging in a garage, and in a pocket of an old coat that 
hung on a porch. 

Carolina wrens, like other wrens, are not much given to protracted 
flights ; most of their short flights in their favorite retreats are erratic 
dartings from one perch to another or from one log to another; but 
in longer flights in the open, which they seldom have to make, their 
flights are direct and straight with rapid beats of their short wings. 
Most of their activity is near the ground, hopping from branch to 
branch with sprightly activitj^, or creeping over, around, and under 
piles of wood and always prying into every nook and crevice in search 
of spiders and insect food. Several observers have noted their ability 
to climb the trunks of trees, sometimes to a considerable height, prying 
into the crevices in the bark for food much after the manner of the 

Voice. — The Carolina wren is one of our great singers, a beautiful 
singer and a most persistent singer. It is one of the few birds that 
sing more or less during every month in the year, though it sings most 
persistently and most enthusiastically during the late winter and 
spring months ; it sings in all kinds of weather, spring sunshine, sum- 
mer rains, or winter snowstorms ; during the height of its song period it 
may be heard all through the day, from dawn to dusk. It has a varied 


repertoire; the songs of other birds are often suggested, or perhaps 
imitated, leading to some confusion at times, but it has a very distinct 
and cliaracteristic song of its own, which is unmistakable. 

The song is a loud, ringing combination of rich, whistling notes, 
given with a definite and emphatic swing and a decided accent ; it can 
be heard for a long distance and is so pleasing in its cheering effect 
that it can hardly pass unnoticed by even the most casual observer. 
The phrases consist of two to four syllables, usually two ©r three, and 
each phrase is repeated two or three times with short intervals between 
the phrases. Among the 28 references to the song of this bird that 
I have consulted, I find an almost endless variety of interpretations, 
expressed in human words or in expressive syllables. I shall select 
only a few of the best of each which, to my mind, most clearly recall 
the song. Among the human words, those that please me best are 
"tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle" ; others are "sweet heart, sweet heart," 
"sweet William, sweet William," "come to me, come to me," "Richelieu, 
Richelieu, Richelieu," "Jew-Pet-er, Jew-Pet-er," "tree- double-tree, 
double-tree, double-tree," "sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar to eat, 
sugar," "which jailer, w^hich jailer," etc. All these phrases seem to 
suggest what is the most characteristic song of the Carolina wren; 
some of them may also suggest the song of the Maryland yellow- 
throat, but there is a great difference in the tone and quality. 

Similar suggestions of the same song are found in the many differ- 
ent syllables used to describe it, such as whee-udel, whee-udel, whee- 
udel; che-whortel^ che-whortel; jo-i'eaper^ jo-repar, jo-ree/ willy- 
toay^ willy-way ; turtree^ turtree^ tuftvee; and there are many other 
similar renderings. 

There are, of course, various other songs, notably a loud whistle 
like that of the cardinal and one that sounds like the peto^ peto^ peto 
of the tufted titmouse, as suggested by some of the above syllables. 
Songs have been heard that resemble the rattle of the kingfisher, the 
call of the flicker, and songs of the pine warbler, towhee, red-winged 
blackbird, meadowlark, Baltimore oriole, bluebird, catbird, white- 
eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, and song sparrow, all of which have given 
the wren credit as an imitator of birds that it has heard, and it has 
been called the "mocking wren." Some of these songs may be actual 
imitations, but many of them may be only expressions of its own great 
versatility in song. Nuttall (1832) goes into this matter at great 
length, describing many songs, and adds: "Amidst these imitations 
and variations, which seem almost endless, and lead the stranger to 
imagine himself, even in the depth of winter, surrounded by all the 
quaint choristers of the summer, there is still, with our capricious 
and tuneful mimic, a favorite theme more constantly and regularly 
repeated than the rest." 

In addition to its varied songs, the Carolina wren has a number of 


call, alarm, or scolding notes, among which Mr. Simmons (1925) lists 
"calls, with much rolling of the r's, tervp; tierry-tier-r-'p ; chier-r-r; 
cheerrp^ tieu u u; a slower tieur-r-r^ tieur-r-, tieur-r-r^ about a two 
second interval between each; cack; clach; clink; clinking metallic? 
rattles; musical trills and tree-toad-like k-r-r-r-r-ingsy 

Dawson (1903) writes: "On all occasions this nervous little creature 
appears to be full of a sort of compressed air, which escapes from time 
to time in a series of mild explosions, like the lid of a teakettle being 
jarred up and down by steam. When the valve is opened a little wider 
there follows an accelerando rattling call, which seems to be modeled 
after the chirr of the red squirrel ; and when the throttle is held wide 
open the rattling notes are telescoped together into an emphatic 
^kurr'r'st,^ which brings one up standing." 

Aretas A. Saunders has 78 records of the songs of the Carolina wren. 
P'ollowing are some quotations from his notes : "In form the song is 
much like that of the Maryland yellowthroat, but the louder, clearer 
quality, lower pitch, and frequency of liquid consonant sounds make it 
sound quite different. Individual birds sing a great number of varia- 
tions. In June 1930 1 recorded eight different songs from one individ- 
ual in less than half an hour. In 1928 a wren of this species lived in a 
locality that I visited frequently, and I recorded 36 different songs 
from it through the season. 

"In pitch my records vary from G ' ' to A ' ' ', one tone more than an 
octave, and all the notes, so far as my car could determine, lower than 
the highest note of the piano. The widest pitch variation in one song 
is four and a half tones, and the least one tone, the average about two 

"The length of a single song varies from about 1% to 3^5 seconds and 
depends mainly on the number of times the bird repeats the j)hrase of 
the song. As a rule, one phrase occupies about two-fifths of a second, 
except in unusual songs where a phrase is longer or shorter than 

Field marks. — The Carolina wren is the largest of the wrens f omid in 
eastern North America, hence the former name "great Carolina wren." 
It is rather a chunky bird, rich reddish brown above and buff below, 
except for the white chin and the barred under tail coverts. There is 
a conspicuous, long, white stripe over the eye. The tail is brown like 
the back and is barred, but it is not fan-shaped or white-tipped, like the 
tail of Bewick's wren. 

Enemies. — This wren is annoyed by the usual external parasites that 
infest other birds; Harold S. Peters (193G) lists four species of ticks, 
two of mites, and one louse that cause some irritation. Probably some 
die from eating poisoned flies and other insects, and predatory mam- 
mals and birds may take their toll. The house wren is a competitor for 

75S06G— 48 15 


nesting sites, but Dr. Sutton (1930) found no evidence that the house 
wren molested the nests of the Carolina wren, and concluded that these 
two species could live together with less friction than the house wren 
and Bewick's wren. 

Dr. Friedmann (1929) gives several instances in which this wren 
was victimized by the cowbird ; and Mrs. Nice (1931) lists 4 nests out of 
16 that were so parasitized in Oklahoma. 

Winter. — The Carolina wren is preferably a sedentary species; it 
likes to remain where it has found a suitable home throughout the 
year. This trait has somewhat limited the northward extension of 
its permanent range. Migratory birds may extend their range north- 
ward in spring and summer and retire southward before winter ; they 
thus escape the rigors of a northern winter ; but this wren does not 
seem to take this wise precaution. During summers and mild winters 
they increase in numbers throughout the middle and northern States, 
as illustrated by Dr. Townsend's (1909) account of the invasion of 
New England; these are probably umnated or young birds seeking 
new territory. But they are not hardy birds, and the next severe 
winter may result disastrously for the adventurous pioneers. Most 
of their food is obtained on or near the ground, and when a deep fall 
of snow covers the ground for a long time and is accompanied by 
severe cold, most of the wrens succumb to cold and starvation. As 
a result we have alternating periods of scarcity in the northern States 
and probably shall never have permanent abundance. Forbush 
(1929) gives the records for several such periods in New England 
from 1903 to 1922. 

Even as far south as Washington, D. C, similar fluctuations in 
numbers have been noted by Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1923), who 

Since the winter of 1917-1918, when the Carolina Wren was greatly reduced 
in numbers in the Wasliington region, this species has increased gradually 
until the fall of 1921 (after four breeding seasons) it was again fairly common, 
though still somewhat below its normal abundance. * * * ^ sudden heavy 
snowfall that continued from January 27 to 29, 1922, when the snow reached 
the unusual depth of twenty-six inches once more proved disastrous to the bird 
under discussion. The heavy blanket of snow melted slowly and not until Febru- 
ary 3 did bare ground appear. * * * Observations during February and 
March show that the Carolina Wren has again decreased in this region though 
those that remain are somewhat greater in number than was the case in spring of 
1918. The supposition advanced in my former note that decrease in this species 
was due not to cold but to the heavy blanket of snow that buried the normal 
food supply, seems substantiated. 

And Prof. Maurice Brooks (1936) reports that in West Virginia, 
where this wren has always been one of the commonest permanent- 
resident birds, it practically disappeared during the severe winter of 
1935-36. During late January "this section was subjected to tern- 


peratures ranging from sixteen to thirty degrees below zero, and after 
that the species was not again noted until April. One boy in Upshur 
County found five Carolina Wrens frozen to death, and there were 
other reports of individuals found dead." 

The wrens that survive northern winters generally live in sheltered 
localities. The one that Dr. Townsend and I saw at Ipswich, Mass., 
was living in a planted thicket of spruces near a house and close to 
the sea on February 7, 1909, where it was seen again up to March 12. 
Dr. Witmer Stone (1911) writes: 

In the low, flat ground bordering the tide-water creelis of southwestern New 
Jersey, they are particularly abundant, especially in midwinter, when it always 
seemed to me that most of the Cardinals and Carolina Wrens gathered in these 
swamps from all the country round about. Here they find food and shelter 
suitable to their needs, and here the winter sun seems to shine more warmly 
than back in the higher grounds of Pennsylvania. 

The Carolina Wren, however, is not entirely confined to these low grounds in 
winter, but ranges well up the narrow valleys and deep ravines, and often 
we find him along the rocky banks of some ravine where flows a narrow, tum- 
bling stream and here the hemlocks of the North mingle with the redbud and 
tulip-tree of the South. 

A note recently received from Mrs. Laskey states that Nashville, 
Tenn., "experienced an unusually cold winter in 1940, the low tem- 
peratures and heavy snows in January were disastrous apparently 
to our Carolina Wrens. They were very scarce during the following 
nesting season. Previously, everywhere one went, its cheery song 
and its trills could be heard in winter. This year, 1941, they have 
not been so scarce, but in my observations not reaching normal 

Mrs. Mary C. Rhoads (1924) tells an interesting story of a Carolina 
wren that spent the winter nights in her conservatory in Haddonfield, 
N. J. He entered each night and left each morning, at first through 
an open door, but eventually through a hole she made for him which 
he learned to use. He roosted, ate, drank, bathed, and sang there all 
winter, sometimes even entering the dining room to pick up crumbs; 
he continued to patronize the conservatory from sometime in the fall 
until March 24, and must have made a delightful winter guest. 

Mr. Saunders writes to me from Fairfield, Conn. : "My records since 
I have lived in Fairfield show that this bird was not found from 1920 
to 1925, but was recorded fairly frequently from 1925 to 1933. Then 
it disappeared again till 1939 but has been present since April of that 
year up to the present (November 1941) ." 


Range. — Eastern United States and northeastern Mexico; non- 


The Carolina wren breeds north to southeastern Nebraska (Supe- 
rior) ; southern Iowa (Des Moines and Sigourney) ; southern Michi- 
gan (Ann Arbor and Detroit) ; southern Ontario (Point Pelee, Lon- 
don, and Toronto) ; southern Connecticut (Bridgeport, New Haven, 
and Chester) ; southern Rhode Island (Middletown) ; and southeastern 
Massachusetts (Naushon). From this line the Carolina Wren is 
found in all the States south to Florida, the Gulf coast and Jiortheast- 
ern Mexico; Tamaulipas (Ciudad Victoria) ; Nuevo Leon (Monterrey, 
Santa Catarina, and Linares) ; and Coahuila (Sabinas). West to 
Coahuila (Sabinas) ; central Texas (Nueces, Mason, and Abilene) ; 
Oklahoma (Wichita Mountains and Fort Reno) ; central Kansas 
(Wichita and Clearwater); and southeastern Nebraska (Superior). 

The range of the Carolina wren seems to be extending northward, 
since there are a number of records of its occurrence north to South 
Dakota (Yankton County) ; Minnesota (Bigstone Lake and Minne- 
apolis) ; Wisconsin (Madison and New London) ; Michigan (Grand 
Rapids and Sand Point) ; southern New Hampshire (Alst^ad and 
Rye Beach) ; and southeastern Maine (Falmouth). 

The above outline is for the entire species, which has been divided 
into four subspecies or geographic races. The Carolina wren {T. I. 
ludomcianus) ranges south to central Texas, the Gulf States, and 
northern Florida; the Florida wren {T. I. miamensis) is found in the 
peninsula of Florida from Levy and Putnam Counties southward; 
Burleigh's Carolina wren {T. I. hurleighi) is found at Cat, Ship, and 
Horn Islands, Miss.; the Lomita wren [T. I. lomitensis) is found in 
the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and northern Tamaulipas, 
Mexico. Other races occur in Mexico. 

Casual records. — The Carolina wren has been observed in Burling- 
ton, Vt., from July 10 to October 5, 1936; at Center Ossipee, N. H., on 
August 21, 1940; one observed on June 21, 1916, at Beaver Pond, 
Maine; and there is one record of breeding in Maine, eggs taken at 
Norway Lake in June 1893. 

Egg dates. — Florida: 44 records, April 1 to June 24; 24 records, 
April 17 to May 6, indicating the height of the season. 

Georgia : 33 records, April 5 to July 3 ; 17 records. May 2 to June 15. 

Pennsylvania : 8 records, April 8 to July 22. 

Texas : 39 records, March 13 to July 9 ; 20 records, April 10 to May 3. 



In naming and describing this island race, George H. Lowery, Jr. 
(1940) , says that it is "similar to T. I. ludovicianus (Latham) to which 
it is most closely related, but differs in being somewhat duller and 
more sooty above and averaging slightly paler below; color of the 
pileum not a great deal duller than the back ; barring of the tail less 


distinct than in Ivdo vicianus ; size not significantly diii'erent from 
T. I. euronotiLS but easily distinguished from that race on the basis of 
its lighter coloration." 

Lowery gives the range of this wren as: "Eesident on the islands 
lying well offshore from the Mississippi Coast ; known to occur on Cat 
Island, Ship Island, and Horn Island. Not improbably it will be 
found on certain of the islands off the Alabama and Louisiana coast 
as well." 




The Florida wren is a common resident in nearly all the Florida 
peninsula, all but the northwestern part, or from Levy and Putnam 
Counties southward, according to the 1931 Check-list. Mr, Lowery 
(1940) does not subdivide this race but says that it is "typical from 
Gainesville and Palatka southward." 

This is the largest and darkest of all the races. Eidgv^ay (1904) 
describes it as "most like T. I. herlandieri^ but coloration still darker 
and richer, and size much greater (decidedly larger than any other 
form of the species) ; upper parts rich chestnut to dark chestnut, 
the superciliary stripe decidedly buffy (except in worn summer 
plumage) ; under parts (except chin and upper throat) deep clay 
color or tawny-ochraceous, the flanks tinged with chestnut and 
(sometimes also the sides) barred with chestnut or dusky." 

We found this wren everywhere that we went in Florida in the 
live-oak and palmetto hammocks, in the swamps, and in dense thickets 
in the river bottoms, singing more or less all winter and more often 
heard than seen. We found no nests, but Mr. Howell (1932) says 
that "the nests are placed on the ground in the woods, often under- 
neath an overhanging bank, in hollow logs or stumps, or sometimes on 
the sill of an outbuilding, or in a box or can within the building. The 
breeding season extends from March to July, and two or more broods 
are raised each season." 

C. J. Maynard (1896) says: 

The usual situations chosen by the wrens on Indian River were at the bottoms 
of the "boots" of the palmettoes. The "boot" is the base of the dead leaf stalks 
which adhere to the tree after the top has decayed and fallen off, they are quite 
broad, slightly concave, and extend upward in an oblique direction leaving a 
space between them and the trunk; the fronds in falling often cover the top 
with a fibrous debris which is imijervious to water and the cavities beneath form 
a snug nesting place for the Carolina Wrens. Many more nests will be found in 
these situations than elsewhere, especially in the wilderness; but I once found 
one built between two palmetto leaves which liad dropped over in such a position 
that their surfaces were horizontal and only three or four inches apart, forming 
a floor as well as a roof for the home of the Wrens. They had conveyed a lai-ge 
amount of suitable material into this place and formed a cozy domicile. The 


fronds were swayed by every passing breeze, yet in such a manner as not 
to injure the structure which was between them. 

In all other respects the habits of the Florida wren seem to be very 
similar to those of the northern race. 

Eggs. — The eggs of the Florida wren are substantially like those of 
the Carolina wren. The measurements of 40 eggs average 19.0 by 14.8 
millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.5 by 14.9, 
19.8 by 15.8, 16.3 by 14.9, and 18.6 by 14.2 millimeters. 



Plate 38 


This small, dull-colored subspecies seems to occupy a rather limited 
range in the lower valley of the Rio Grande, in Texas and in northern 
Tamaulipas, in Mexico. The map published by Mr. Lowery (1940) 
shows decided gaps between the range of this race and the ranges of 
berlandieri, in Mexico, and his new race oberholseri, in southern Texas. 
He says: "When one views the great areas apparently uninhabited by 
Carolina wrens bordering the Rio Grande above and below Laredo, 
the isolation of lomitensis becomes obvious. It thus seems highly 
improbable that lomitensis comes geographically in contact with other 
races thereby suggesting a factor which might be responsible for its 
clear-cut taxonomic characters." In naming this race, George B. 
Sennett (1890) describes it well as follows: 

Compared with T. ludovicianus this race is much lighter in its general appear- 
ance ; the color of the back is also different, ludovicianus being reddish brown 
or briglit cinnamon, while lomitensis is of the chocolate order of browns, fading 
into grayish brown during the breeding season. There is also more white on 
lomitensis than on ludovieiamis ; the barring of the tail is also different. In 
ludovicianus the bars of black are wonderfully regular, extending across both 
webs in a continuous line, while in lomitensis the bars of black are joined by a 
shading of white or creamy and are broken and irregular, thus giving the general 
mottled appearance and lighter color. The flanks, too, in all old birds of lomi- 
tensis show a decided tendency to barring, while in ludovicianus this is want- 
ing. * * * 

This new race seems to be resident in that part of the Rio Grande "Valley lying 
adjacent to the river where the forest is heaviest, for none of the forms of this 
genus has been taken either above or below this tinjhcr tract. Hidalgo, where 
I first obtained the birds, and Lomita Ranch, where I secured the greatest number, 
are situated only eight miles apart on the Texas side of the river. In this locality 
the heavy timber is near the river, and north of it the chaparral extends for a 
distance of about fifteen miles; next, still northward, lies a desert of sand reach- 
ing more than fifty miles until it meets the strong vegetable gi'owth of the valley 
of the Nueces River. 

Mr. Sennett (1878) had collected a number of these wrens in the 
above locality some dozen years earlier, which he recorded under the 


name herlandieri; these specimens were puzzling for a while, until 
enough of the Mexican race could be obtained for comparison ; so it was 
not until 1890 that this isolated race could be satisfactorily described 
and named. He says that "this bird breeds near the ground, seldom 
higher than 5 feet, in hollow trees, stubs, and even dead limbs lying on 
the ground." He could not discover that it differed in any of its habits 
from typical Carolina wrens elsewhere. He collected a number of 
eggs, which were evidently similar to those of the northern bird. 

Eggs. — The eggs of this wren are indistinguishable from those of 
other races of the species. The measurements of 40 eggs average 19.2 
by 14.6 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 21.5 
by 14.6, 20.5 by 16,2, 16.8 by 14.5, and 17.4 by 13.0 millimeters. 



Plates 39-42 


Contributed by Robest S. Woods 

Best known through the abundance of its conspicuous flask-shaped 
nests, the cactus wren well repays a close acquaintance with its own 
interesting and unique personality. It is a bird that cannot easily 
be confused with any other North American species, either in ap- 
pearance or habits. 

The northern cactus wren is widely distributed through the Lower 
Sonoran Zone along the Mexican border from Texas to the Pacific 
and as far north as southern Utah and Nevada, but it is actually found 
only in those comparatively limited regions where thorny shrubs and 
trees or the more aborescent species of cactus offer nesting sites at 
least 2 or 3 feet above ground and capable of supporting its bulky 
structures. Vegetation of this type is frequently encountered on sunny 
hillsides, on the mesas adjacent to mountain ranges, and along gravelly 
watercourses. Though primarily a species of the lower country, Mrs. 
Florence Merriam Bailey (1928) cites records of the cactus wren's 
occurrence at altitudes of approximately 6,000 feet in New Mexico. 
W. E. D. Scott (1888a) states, however, that in southern Arizona 
it is "seldom found above 4,000 feet on the foothills of the several 
mountain chains traversing the Territory." 

On the Pacific slope of southern California, suitable habitats are 
much less plentiful than in the more arid regions to the eastward 
and are steadily being reduced by cultivation and subdivision or by 
mere growth of population with its attendant increase in vandalism. 
Unlike many desert birds, the cactus wren accepts the encroachments 
of civilization rather graciously, and occasionally it builds its nest 


about houses or bams ; but it is doubtful whether it would long remain 
in any locality after the entire removal of the native vegetation. It 
is easy to overestimate the abundance of these birds, not only on ac- 
count of the plurality of nests built by each family but also because 
their vociferousness usually insures one's consciousness of their pres- 
ence whenever they are near. 

The geographical subdivision of this species has been attended by 
considerable confusion and revision, pi-obably because of wide indi- 
vidual variations, and the number of races ascribed to the United 
States has fluctuated from one to three and back again. Dr. Edgar 
A. Mearns (1902b) described the subspecies couesi from Texas, an- 
thonyi from the interior deserts, and hryanti from the Pacific slope, the 
second being distinguished from the others by generally lighter colora- 
tion, and the last by broader white stripes on the back and more white 
on the tail. In all these, according to Mearns, the throat is mainly 
black, this feature separating them from affinis of southern Baja 
California. However, a great degree of variation seems to exist in 
the pattern of the black throat markings ; these are variously described 
and illustrated as spots, streaks, and occasionally as coalescent spots, 
but these differences have not figured as diagnostic characters. In all 
the adult individuals known to the present writer in Los Angeles 
County, Calif., the black spots of the throat have coalesced to form 
a conspicuous throat patch, the upper part of which usually is almost 
if not quite solidly black and is outlined sharply against the plain 
white chin. The l^lack area extends slightly higher along the sides of 
the upper throat and gradually breaks up into streaks or chains of 
spots on the chest and the sides of the throat. In connection with this 
tendency in coloration, possibly there may be some significance in the 
apparent differences in nest-building and singing habits hereinafter 

Nesting. — The list of nesting sites utilized by cactus wrens is a long 
one. Following a study of a large number of nests near the base of the 
Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, Ariz., Mrs. Bailey (1922) 
wrote : 

While the name Cactus Wron was justified iu this locality as in others by the 
innumerable nests found in cholla cactus, here thorny trees and bushes especially 
catsclaw zizyphus {Z. lycioidcs) or lote bush, were also used extensively, while 
mesquite and tlie dense shrubby haclvberry or grenjefio were used occasionally for 
nesting sites. It was interesting to note that zizyphus bushes containing nests gen- 
erally stood under mesquite trees, so getting double protection. The pi'otection 
afforded by tlie armament of thorns was often so complete that it was impossible 
to reach a nest without cutting away the obstructing branches. Even that, how- 
ever, did not always satisfy the nest makers, for such bulky, conspicuous nests 
need to be safeguarded in every way from hawks, owls, and other enemies. 
Thirty-five out of sixty-four nests examined were not only protected by the en- 
tangling thorns of the surrounding branches but were built within clusters of the 


red-flowered mistletoe {Phoradendron caUfornicum) which in many cases 
partially or wholly concealed them. One nest lay on a level branch covered by 
an unsual horizontal growth of mistletoe and showed only as a darkened mass 
inside, but most of them were in round ball-like masses of mistletoe, commonly 
at the ends of branches in terminal mistletoe rosettes, frequently so dense that 
it was impossible to obtain nest statistics or photographs. One of the nests with- 
out mistletoe protection was built under an unbrella-like mass of foliage. 

* * * When not built inside a mass of mistletoe the nest was variously sup- 
ported — by a crotch, by a horizontal branch and the trunk of the tree, or by an 
angle of branches. 

A summary of the nests examined was appended, showing that 31 
were in cholla cactus, at heights of 2% to 6 feet from the ground, while 
of the 64 others, "38 were in catsclaw (29 in red mistletoe), 17 in zizy- 
phus, 5 in mesquite (in red mistletoe) , 4 in shrubby hackberry ; and al- 
together 34 in red mistletoe. The approximate height from the gromid 
varied from 4 to 9 feet. * * * "While some of the cholla nests 
examined were substantial and well protected, most of them were de- 
cidedly inferior to the nests found in other bushes and trees. Being 
lower and more exposed to wind and storm, especially in the case of 
those on top of the lowest chollas, they had apparently been blown to 
pieces, presenting a most dilapidated appearance." 

In New Mexico, says Mrs. Bailey (1928) , "the bayonet-pointed heads 
of the tree yucca (T'wc<7«ra<:/^<3s«) are often chosen. * * * Two nests 
seen were safely placed between the spears of adjoining yucca heads." 
F. C. Willard (1923) mentions some unusual sites in Arizona: "One 
pair built for several years in the hollow cornice of a schoolhouse. The 
entrance was through a hole cut one winter by a visiting flicker. An- 
other site was in an old woodj)ecker's nesting cavity which was twenty- 
five feet up in a large sycamore, one of a line of these trees extending out 
from the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains. A broken-out cavity 
in a sahuaro cactus is also rather out of the ordinary for a Cactus Wren 
to choose as a nesting site." 

In coastal southern California, the choice of acceptable nesting sites 
is more restricted. On the gravelly river washes, such as that of 
the San Gabriel River, Opuntia parryi^ the only "cholla" {CyUndro- 
puntia) present, is rather small in stature, so that only the largest 
specimens offer suitable situations. Most of the pricklypears {Platyo- 
puntia) are procumbent in habit, but a large- jointed form {O. occi- 
dentalis) furnishes a few nesting sites of the required minimum 
height of 2 or 2i/^ feet. Large clumps of this latter species also occur 
on some of the south- fronting hillsides. Thorny trees and shrubs are 
absent, but nests are occasionally built in large bushes such as RhiLS 
laurina and R. ovata^ or even in orange trees in a grove, at heights of 
around 8 feet. One nest was placed on a four-by-four lookout under 
the gable of a barn roof, another between palm leaves on the roof on a 
pergola, and W. Leon Dawson (1923) mentions that "Mr. Frank S. 


Daggett found a nest in an apricot tree, and another one, still more re- 
markable, on the cross arm of a power-line pole, near Azusa, at a height 
of 30 feet." 

It would appear that cactus wrens appreciate the protection afforded 
by the proximity of dwellings; at any rate, they readily avail them- 
selves of dooryard specimen cacti as nesting sites. In addition to the 
use of "choUas" in the writer's yard at Azusa, they have maintained 
a nest almost continuously for several years between the vertical 
columns of a good-sized Cereus, building a new one from time to time 
upon the collapsed ruins of the old. 

The nest of the cactus wren is more than a mere receptacle for hold- 
ing eggs and young. It serves as an actual home for the bird through- 
out the year, a protection against cold, rain, and enemies at night and 
perhaps against storms at any time. It is kept in repair and rebuilt 
when necessary, and each young bird, upon reaching maturity, prepares 
its own domicile against the coming winter. This use, of course, calls 
for a larger and more elaborate structure than most birds' nests. Mrs. 
Bailey (1922) thus describes the nests observed in Arizona : 

In form, the Cactus Wren's nest suggests a retort, having a large globular 
chamber about 6 inches in diameter approached through a long passageway or 
entrance, the whole normally about 12 inches in length, the mouth of the en- 
trance being about 3 inches above the base of the globular chamber. This nest 
chamber in course of years becomes a thick felted mass of gray, weathered plant 
fibers so hard that saucer-like sections sometimes crack ofE from the back show- 
ing the solid, sodden bottom of the nest. The entrance, on the contrary, is made 
of long straw-like plant stems which may easily get blown about and so often 
need replenishing. 

When the old nests are repaired and ready for winter use these new straw- 
colored entrances often afford a striking contrast to the old gray globes, although 
occasionally the new material is lavishly distributed over the whole top of the 
nest. One nest, found on March 21, looked new, only straw-colored material 
showing from the few possible points of observation; but it might easily have 
had merely a coating of fresh material. A mass of fuzzy plant material was out- 
side the mouth. An old gray nest fragment which might have supplied foundation 
material was behind the nest. Besides replenishing the straw entrance, the wrens 
re-line for cold weather. In one instance fur, and in many instances the small 
gray body-feathers of the Gambel Quail, and sometimes well-marked feathers 
of other species of birds, were seen in the entrances and about the mouths. One 
nest used for roosting purposes during the winter, when examined for eggs on 
April 30, had its globular chamber so thickly lined with soft feathers that it 
suggested a feather bed. 

Considerable variation and adaptability were shown in the construction of 
the nests examined. Sometimes in the process of repair the angle of the entrance 
was changed. In one case, while the old nest faced east, the new entrance faced 
south by east, almost at right angles, presumably for better support for the mouth 
and larger twigs for perches at the mouth. 

Mrs. Bailey also found that while the entrances of the nests faced 
in all directions, the greatest number were toward the southwest. 
In the San Gabriel Valley I have been unable to detect any preference 


in this regard. In the Cereus previously referred to, the successive 
nests have faced in various directions; and in repairing an old nest 
a new entrance is sometimes made in the opposite end. 

It is evident that the nests of these tvs^o regions differ markedly in 
the type of materials used. The Los Angeles County nests are built 
entirely of herbaceous stems and grasses, some of them green in the 
early part of the year. Because of the impermanence of this mate- 
rial, and possibly also the greater humidity, a nest will be in a state 
of collapse and disintegration by the end of one year. This is no fault 
of the workmanship, for a recently constructed nest was found to 
remain quite dry inside after a 2-inch rain. New nests are invaria- 
bly built in spring or summer for the raising of the broad, the old 
ones serving as roosts. The greatest nest-building activity occurs in 
September and October, as the nests that have gone through the pre- 
vious winter's rains must be replaced, and even some of those built 
for the current year's broods are likely to be no longer habitable. 

Apparently the first to discover the winter use of the nests was 
A. W. Anthony (1891), who thus describes his observations in south- 
western New Mexico : 

As these nests were usually seen in groups of from four or five to a dozen, 
frequently six or seven being seen in one mesquite bush, the first impression 
obtained was that the birds nested in colonies. As the season advanced, how- 
ever, and the collections of nests were found to be used by but a single or at 
most two pairs of birds, a question of what the rest of the nests were for, fre- 
quently presented itself. It was very evident from even a casual examination 
that nearly or all the nests had been built at about the same time, and from 
their uniform fresh and unbroken appearance I concluded that they could not 
have been subjected to the driving stoi'ms that sweep that country from October 
until April. 

It was not until the winter of 1889, however, that a possible explanation pre- 
sented itself. On October 24 of that year, while hunting antelope near the 
Mexican boundary, I availed myself of the protection of a small thicket of mes- 
quite scrub to observe the movements of a herd of game on the plain beyond. 
I had scarcely concealed myself when I saw flying toward me a cactus wren, 
with its mouth full of dry grass. Alighting in a bush near by it immediately 
entered a nest within 30 feet of me, and after a moment reappeared without 
the grass and started for another load. An examination showed that the grass 
had been used as a lining and to further thicken the walls. The long horizontal 
tunnel-like opening also gave evidence of having been lengthened. Five or six 
other nests within a radius of 50 feet all showed equal evidence of having been 
refitted and strengthened. Here at last was a possible clew to the many empty 
nests seen during the summer, and, hoping to gather further information, the 
locality was frequently visited until December 16. The work of rebuilding the 
old nests continued during pleasant weather until about the first of December, 
By this time all of the nests of the vicinity were so thoroughly repaired that 
they had every appearance of new nests. At no time was there more than 
one bird to be seen. I think, however, that a pair were interested in the im- 
provements, as the notes of a second wren were heard at no great distance. 
During storms or cold windy w^eather I frequently found cactus wrens in the 
very near vicinity of these and other nests, and while I never succeeded in 


catchiiij,' tlKun In the nt^sts I am confident that they were made use of at such 
times as shelters from the storm and probably also as roosting places. It would 
also appear that several of the nests were repaired and used during the winter 
by the same pair of wrens. 

Upon coming to the Pacific Coast I was immediately impressed with the differ- 
ence in the nesting habits of the species as seen in Soufheru and Lower California, 
and in the higher regions of New Mexico and Arizona. I am iinfortunately with- 
out a series of measurements of the nests of the two regions, but am safe in saying 
that the bird of the coast region builds a smaller nest, especially noticeable in its 
nmch shorter covered opening, which in fine specimens from the interior (New 
Mexico and Arizona) frequently measures from twelve to fourteen inches in length 
and is supported by being built along a horizontal branch of cholla cactus or 
tJiorny bush. California nests are seldom or never, as far as my experience goes, 
found in colonies. Two or more nests are sometimes seen in the same thicket of 
cactus, but in such case each nest is used by a pair of birds, there being no supple- 
mentary nests to be used as lodging-houses, as would appear to be the case in the 
interior, nor have I any evidence of the nests in mild coast region being rebuilt for 
use in winter. 

Tlie last sentence illustrates the danger that lies in the drawing of 
negative conclusions, even by the most competent observers. Certainly 
those inferences are not true in all southwestern California, and in view 
of the general use of nests as night roosts by other species of this genus, 
even in tropical latitudes, as described by Alexander F. Skutch (1940) , 
it seems unlikely that there would be local deviations from this habit. 
The more scattered distribution of the California nests may be in part, 
at least, a matter of suitable sites. 

In constructing the framework of the nest, the bottom is first laid, 
then the vaulted upper part is fashioned, and finally the entrance 
tunnel is added. It is often impossible to determine exactly which 
direction the entrance will face until the exterior of the nest is almost 
finished, as the tunnel may be either straight or rather sharply curved 
to one side. This tunnel, whose inner end is about even with the ceiling 
of the nesting cavity, may be nearly horizontal, but usually it slopes 
more or less steeply down into the interior of the nest. In the many- 
branched "chollas" the tunnels are often so cleverly placed that the 
branches form an encircling support and a convenient doorstep. The 
building proceeds rapidly and would be completed in a short time were 
it not that the work is conducted rather spasmodically, with long 
intervals of apparent neglect. The lining of the nest is a more tedious 
process and doubtless entails extended search for suitable materials, of 
which feathers seem to be most favored, though kapok or cotton will be 
used if found. Many abortive attempts at nest-building are made, the 
nests being abandoned at various stages of construction when the birds 
apparently decide to choose another location. 

Despite the accessibility of most cactus wrens' nests, a study of their 
family affairs is not easy. The contents of the nest are seldom visible 
through the entrance tunnel, which is directed toward the upper part 
of the nesting cavity and is often curved or bent at a right angle, while 


the walls are so thick and the material so tightly matted together that 
it would be difficult to make an opening into the nesting chamber with- 
out considerable damage to the nest. The cavity is also usually more 
or less filled with loose feathers. Curiosity as to the contents of cactus 
wrens' nests should be tempered by due caution, as I have been informed 
that one such investigation unfortunately resulted in the loss of an 
intruder's eye as the startled bird darted suddenly through its only 
means of exit. 

In spring, nesting usually begins in March or April, according to the 
season. If the first brood is fledged successfully, in California a new 
nest is built and a second brood brought off in June or thereabouts. 
According to Mr. Scott (1888a), in Pinal and adjacent counties of 
southern Arizona, the cactus wrens raise "at least two and sometimes 
three broods. * * * The first eggs are laid in the Catalina region 
as early as March 20, and the broods vary from three to five in number." 

^P'^*.— [Author's note : The usual set for the northern cactus wren 
consists of four or five eggs, most commonly four ; but as few as three 
may constitute a full set, and as many as six or even seven have been 
found in a nest. The eggs are mostly ovate in shape, some being 
slightly elongated or shortened. They are somewhat glossy. The 
ground color varies from "salmon color" or "salmon-buff" to "seashell 
pink," pinkish white, or rarely to nearly pure white. Usually the egg 
is more or less evenly covered with fine dots or very small spots of 
reddish browns, "rufous" to "ferruginous," sometimes nearly conceal- 
ing the ground color; sometimes the markings are concentrated in a 
ring about the larger end. Rarely an egg seems nearly immaculate, 
and still more rarely an egg with a white ground is quite heavily 
spotted or blotched with the above browns. The measurements of 50 
eggs in the United States National Museum average 23.6 by 17.0 
millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 26.4 by 
15.2, 24.9 by 19.1, and 19.8 by 13.2 millimeters.] 

Young. — Because of the difficulty of discovering exactly what tran- 
spires in the dark, feather-filled recesses of the nest, little information 
is available as to the exact length of the incubation and fledging 
periods. Both parents seem to share the nesting duties equally, 
bringing insects and worms of various kinds to the young at frequent 
intervals. Mrs. N. Edward Ayer (1937) gives the following inter- 
esting account of the activities and difficulties of a family of cactus 
wrens which occupied a nest in a rather unusual situation at Pomona, 

Toward the end of April 1937, a pair of Cactus Wrens built and occupied a 
nest on a ledge under the corner of our tiled roof. On May 9th, a brolien egg 
shell, creamy pink spotted with cinnamon, was found beneath the nest. For 
the next 3 weeks the parents were kept busy feeding four hungry mouths, bread 
crumbs from n nearby feeding station forming an important part of their diet. 

On the morning of May 29th, when we came down to breakfast, a loud chat- 


tering was heard, and we saw both parents and the four youug on a nearby 
sycamore. One baby was caught and banded, but unfortunately 2 days later, 
we found it dead * * *. 

Every night between 6 : 30 and 7, the parents led the young back to their nest 
for the night, and the entire proceeding, accompanied by much scolding and 
fussing, was a most ludicrous and lengthy performance. Not until June 11th, 
however, did we discover the real difHculty, which lay in the 4-inch overhang 
of the tile. In order to enter the nest, unless the bird could fly straight in, 
which the babies evidently could not— it must be reached from the roof tile 
which formed a hood over the nest, and this necessitated a kind of flying sortie 
with a quick right-about-face, which the youngsters could not easily accomplish. 
On June 11th, then, we saw the little family start to retire. They were at the 
opposite end of the house from their nest when first observed. After a pro- 
longed in.spection of a nest over the garage which the parents had built, prior 
to the one eventually occupied, the I'amily started for home, hopping in stately 
procession across the tiled roof, single file and very sedately. Then after 
encouraging clucks from the parents, baby number one negotiated the difficult 
jump to the nest. Not so the second baby — he essayed it three times, missing 
the hole each time, and being obliged to cling to the house, woodpecker fashion. 
The fourth time, he caught a long piece of string which dangled from the nest 
and swung back and forth until one of his parents flew under him, and he 
crawled to safety over her body, just as the first baby, weary of his lonesome 
sojourn in the nest, flew out in the world again ! And so it went on, ad infinitum. 

We had several times previously seen the parent bird clinging to the side of 
the ledge and the babies crawling in over her, but did not realize the significance 
of this act until this night. The string, too, had given us much concern lest the 
babies become entangled in it, but now we wondered if it could have been 
designedly placed there — like a rope ladder. 

Plumages. — [Author's note : The young cactus wren in juvenal 
plumage is similar to the adult, but the crown is of a duller, darker 
brown, the light markings of the upper parts are pale brownish buff or 
rusty white, instead of white, those on the wings being pinkish buff, 
and the black spots on the throat and chest are smaller and fainter, 
the throat sometimes almost immaculate; all the markings are less 
sharply defined. 

The postjuvenal molt, which in some individuals is not finished until 
September, apparently involves everything but the wings. This pro- 
duces a first winter plumage that is practically adult, with the light 
streaks on the back whiter and broader, and the flanks and posterior 
under parts bright "cinnamon" or "ochraceous-buff," instead of rusty 

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in August and September.] 

Wlien the young cactus wren emerges from the nest, its coloration is 
similar, though somewhat less sharply defined, to that of the adult 
except for the absence of the black markings on the throat, which is 
plain whitish or lightly flecked with darker. The full adult plumage 
is attained rather suddenly in the early fall, about September. 

It has been conjectured by some that the varying amounts of black 
on the throats of individual cactus wrens might be related to the age 


of the birds. This, however, is not true, as the throat patches assumed 
by the birds in their first autumn are likely to show nearly the maximum 
degree of blackness; whereas in individuals having more than the 
usual amount of white on the throat, this character persists from year 
to year. 

Food.—Prot. F. E. L. Beal (1907) has reported on the contents of 
41 stomachs of cactus wrens "taken in the region from Los Angeles to 
San Bernardino, and from July to January, inclusive. They con- 
tained about 83 percent of animal matter to 17 of vegetable." Beetles 
and Hymenoptera ("the latter ants and wasps") each made up about 
27 percent of the total, 10 percent of the former being weevils. Grass- 
hoppers constituted 15 percent, Lepidoptera 5 percent, and bugs 
(Hemiptera) 5 percent, including black scale (Saissetia) in six stom- 
achs. The percentage of spiders was lower than in other wrens. "A 
few of the long bones of a tree frog were found in 1 stomach." 

The proportion of vegetable food was found to be larger than in 
other wrens : 13 percent was made up of fruit pulp, which in all cases 
where identification was possible consisted of wild species, including 
cactus {Ojmntia), elderberry {Sanibucus) ^ and cascara {Rhamnus). 
The 4 percent of seeds consisted of Rhiis^ filaree (Ei^odin/m) , and 
Amsinchia. Summarizing the cactus wren's diet. Prof. Beal says that 
"it contains but little that is useful to man, while the great bulk is 
made up of elements that are, or would be, harmful if present on 
cultivated lands." 

Supplementing the mention of tree-frog bones. Dr. Tracy I. Storer 
(1920) reports taking a cactus wren near Mojave, Calif., that had 
swallowed a lizard about 2 inches in length. Aside from the edible 
kinds of cactus fruit, all cultivated fruits seem to be ignored. The 
birds do, however, greatly enjoy young sweet corn if the husks are 
stripped down to give them access to the grains. One will also oc- 
casionally visit a feeding-table for bread crumbs, but these are not 
attractive enough to them to establish a regular habit where insects 
are plentiful. The animal portion of the food appears to be obtained 
predominantly from the ground, among fallen leaves and other debris. 

Behavior. — Mr. Dawson (1923) says that the cactus wren "is the 
most wary and secretive of the Troglodytine race." However, those 
that nest near human habitations soon forget their shyness and allow 
as close an approach as most of our dooryard birds. On one occasion 
I found that a pair living some distance away from any evidences 
of civilization refused to return to their nest and feed their young 
while a camera remained near; but those that nest near buildings 
show no such fear and will even make the camera or its tripod a 
way-station on their trips to and from the nest. 

The demeanor of the cactus wren is that of a creature which finds 
ample interest and enjoyment in life; especially is this true of the 


immature individuals. The birds of the summer brood remain 
together for several weeks after leaving the nest, and in little troops 
of three or four they come fearlessly about houses and perform all 
manner of clownish antics and acrobatics, all to the accompaniment 
of a rollicking chatter. I have seen one start from the seat of a 
wicker chair, run nimbly up the back and over the top, and hang 
head downward on the other side; often they race back and forth 
along the ridge of a building with exultant squawks, perhaps cling- 
ing to the edge of the roof and twisting their necks to peer under- 
neath. Their curiosity is insatiable ; everything must be climbed over, 
all packages, receptacles, cracks, and crannies looked into and any- 
thing inside pulled out if possible. Though the adults lose some 
of the frivolity, the attitude of good humor seems to remain, and 
quarrels are few. The only actual battle I recall seeing resulted when 
one immature bird attempted to bring material to a nest being built 
by another. 

Both the cactus wren's food and its hunting grounds are much the 
same as those of the thrashers, but its manner of foraging is strik- 
ingly different from the strenuous methods of the latter. The cactus 
wren approaches a leaf or other movable object, inserts its bill care- 
fully under one side, and raises it up, meanwhile peering beneath in 
readiness to seize any small creature thus revealed. The bird runs 
rather swiftly but usually flies if going any considerable distance. 
Its flights are ordinarily comparatively short, direct, and close to 
the ground. 

Writing of the winter birds of Palm Springs, on the western 
edge of the Colorado Desert, where the cacti, though abundant, are 
not of large stature. Dr. Grinnell (1904) includes the following note 
on the cactus wren : "Fairly common out on the desert ; and also, as 
surprised me when I first found them, in Palm Canyon. In the latter 
locality they made themselves at home among the drooping dead 
leaves beneath the green heads of the lofty palms. The birds could 
be plainly heard rattling about inside, but were difficult to drive out. 
Doubtless such palm-leaf bowers afforded insect food in plenty, as 
well as a well-protected retreat." 

Alexander F. Skutch (1935, 1940) has reported the communal 
roosting of the banded cactus wren {Heleodytes zonatus) and the 
hooded cactus wren {H. capistratus) in Central America, as many as 
11 of the former having been found sleeping together in one nest. 
This habit does not appear to be shared by our northern species, 
except when the members of a recently fledged brood return at night 
to the nest in which they were hatched. That one or both of the 
parents sometimes keep them company might be inferred from the 
previously quoted account by Mrs. Ayer, though the quarters must 
be somewhat cramped. 


However, the young birds lose little time in starting to build indi- 
vidual roosting places of their own, if the available supply is insuffi- 
cient. A few resort to makeshift devices, one of them attempting, with 
rather indifferent success, to use as a foundation an abandoned nest 
of the hooded oriole among the leaves of a dracaena tree. Another, 
also believed to be immature, was reported by A. H. Anderson (1934b) 
at Tucson, Ariz., to have appropriated a verdin's nest, notwithstanding 
its inadequate size. Some of these roosting nests, presumably built 
by young birds, have little if any entrance tunnel, the entire interior 
being clearly visible. Aside from the recently fledged broods, I have 
never flushed more than one bird from a nest; on the other hand, in 
coastal California, where the nests deteriorate rapidly, nearly every 
habitable nest will contain an occupant after sunset, as indicated by the 
tip of a tail projecting out into the entrance tunnel. 

Occasionally a cactus wren will drink from a birdbath, but in gen- 
eral they seem to have little need or desire for water, other than the 
moisture contained in the insects and cactus fruit of their ordinary 
diet. Rarely, one of the wrens attempts a bath, but after many timid 
approaches it usually succeeds only in wetting the feathers of the 
breast. I have never seen them roll in the dust, after the manner of 
some of the smaller wrens. 

Voice. — The voice of the cactus wren has rather a deep, throaty 
quality, sometimes becoming almost a croak. The bird uses a great 
diversity of notes, some of them grating or ratchetlike, varied with jay- 
like squawks and occasional cries suggesting the plaintive demands 
of young birds. While foraging, a softer clucking or croaking note 
may be given at intervals, though the birds are often silent for long 
periods while so engaged. 

Many of the ornithological handbooks refer to the cactus wren's 
enthusiasm as a songster. Mrs. Irene G. Wheelock (1904), for exam- 
ple, says : "He sings constantly as well as sweetly." Others speak of 
the typical wrenlike quality of the song. Since this is decidedly at 
variance with the present writer's observations in southern California, 
there must be differences in the singing habits of the species in various 
parts of its range. In Los Angeles County the cactus wren's song 
is not often heard, and, while it may somewhat resemble in form the 
songs of the smaller wrens, it can hardly be characterized as melodious. 
In this locality a much more frequent expression, which perhaps also 
partakes of the nature of a song, is the rapid repetition of a single 
staccato note. The quality of this note varies, but never in the same 
series. This type of call is usually delivered from the top of a tree, 
a building, or a pole, sometimes antiphonally by a pair of birds on the 
tops of different bushes'. The most tuneful utterance that I have ever 
heard from these cactus wrens was a warbling song given by an imma- 

7580G6— 48 16 


tiire bird, a song so soft that it could have been heard only within a 
distance of a few feet. 

Noisy and unmusical though the California representative of the 
species may be, its cries are never shrill or mournful but convey a sug- 
gestion of rollicking good humor, rather pleasing than otherwise. 

Field marks, — The cactus wren is easily distinguished from any 
other North American wren by its much greater size, as well as by the 
fact that it never carries' its tail in the tilted position so familiar in 
the smaller species. The only bird with which it might be confused, 
by reason of size, general appearance, and arid habitat, is the sage 
thrasher, from which it differs, among other respects, in its longer 
bill and white-streaked back. When flushed, its most conspicuous 
feature is the white-banded tail, which is widely extended in flight. 

Enemies. — In thickly populated districts the chief hazard to the 
cactus wren undoubtedly lies in the fact that its conspicuous, conveni- 
ently located nests offer an irresistible challenge to vandals. This is 
but one of the many instances in which defenses that cope successfully 
with natural enemies prove but traps and delusions when the human 
element enters. Fortunately, the greater part of the cactus wren's 
domain presents' little allurement to colonists, so the species may well 
prosper for many years to come. 

In other respects, the cactus wren's nesting habits must be of gi'eat 
advantage. In cholla cacti the viciously sharp, barbed spines, to which 
the birds themselves seem utterly oblivious, must very effectually bar 
the way to climbing predators, while the covering of the nest shields 
it contents from flying enemies, as well as providing shelter from the 
elements. In leafy bushes or trees, the nests are placed at the ends of 
the branches in the outer foliage, thus again making them almost 
inaccessible to climbers. These precautions, of course, will not avail 
against the California jay, and the complete disappearance of two sets 
of eggs in my own yard, without damage to the nests, could be ascribed 
only to that culprit. 

Winter. — Though not truly migratory, cactus wrens may shift about 
somewhat when not engaged in nesting duties. In writing of this 
species in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, H. W. 
Henshaw (1875) reported that "in the fall, the thickets bordering 
the streams are frequently resorted to by them." Perhaps such moves 
into denser cover have contributed to the general impression that the 
wrens are less common in winter. They also seem less vociferous at 
this time of year and hence more likely to be overlooked. Near Los 
Angeles, the birds are often absent from their breeding grounds in 
winter for days or weeks at a time, but they reappear often enough 
to show that they have performed no actual migration. 

The paired birds seem to remain together through winter, and, aside 
from pursuits, no courtship demonstrations have been noted. 



Range. — Southwestern United States to central Mexico; nonmi- 

The cactus wren is found north to southern California (Kernville 
and Coso) ; southern Nevada (Vegas Valley and Sheep Mountains) ; 
southwestern Utah (Beaverdam Mountains and Toquerville) ; south- 
ern New Mexico (Carlisle, Silver City, and the mountains near En- 
gle) ; and southern Texas (San Angelo, San Antonio, and Runge). 
East to central Texas (Runge and Brownsville) ; Tamaulipas (Jau- 
mave) ; and Yucatan (Progreso and Rio Lagartos). South to Yuca- 
tan (Progreso and Rio Lagartos) ; Mexico (Valley of Mexico) ; Jalisco 
(Guadalajara) ; and Baja California (San Jose del Cabo). West to 
Baja California (San Jose del Cabo, San Quintin, and San Telmo) ; 
and southern California (Santa Paula, Tejon Pass, and Kernville). 

The above outline is for the species as a whole, which has been divided 
into four subspecies or geographic races within our limits ; other races 
occur in Mexico. The northern cactus wren {H. h. couesi) occupies 
the entire range within the United States and the northern part of the 
northern States of Mexico; Bryant's cactus wren {H. h. hryanti) is 
found on the west coast of Baja California from San Telmo south 
to Santa Catarina Landing; the San Ignacio cactus wren {H. b. purus) 
is found in central Baja California from about latitude 29° to latitude 
25°; the San Lucas cactus wren {H. h. a-fflnis) is found in southern 
Baja California. 

Egg dates. — Arizona : 82 records, March 10 to August 6 ; 40 records, 
April 21 to May 25, indicating the height of the season. 

California : 160 records, March 2 to July 5 ; 85 records, March 20 
to April 22. 

Lower California : 48 records, March 17 to August 18 ; 27 records, 
April 14 to May 15. 

Texas: 25 records, March 12 to July 15; 14 records, April 8 to 
May 14. 




As mentioned under the northern race, H. b. couesi, there has been 
some confusion in the past as to the recognizable races of this species. 
In his study of the cactus wrens of the United States Dr. Edgar A. 
Mearns (1902b) proposed the recognition of three subspecies within 
our borders and designated the range of this race, bryanti, as includ- 


ing southern California west of the Coast Range. Harry S. Swarth 
(1904a) disagreed with this view and pubhshed the results of his 
study, which indicate that only one subspecies, H. 1). coiiesi, is found 
north of the Mexican boundary, which seems to be the generally 
accepted view today. 

In naming this race, Mr. Anthony (1894) gives its subspecific 
characters as "differing from affinis in very much heavier spotting of 
lower parts, the black predominating, in extreme specimens, on the 
throat and upper breast, and in its perfectly barred tail and slight 
wash of rufous on belly and flanks; from hrunneicapillus by heavier 
spotting, especially on sides and belly, in having intermediate rec- 
trices more or less perfectly barred, and in much less rusty wash on 
lower parts." 

The above description as to the barring of the tail seems to be a bit 
confusing, for Mr. Anthony says that "as a rule hryanti exhibits a 
fully barred tail as in affiiiis.'''' For a more detailed study of the sub- 
ject, which seems beyond the scope of this Bulletin, the reader is 
referred to the three papers mentioned above, as well as B-idgway's 
(1904) treatment of the group. 

So far as I can learn, the habits of Bryant's cactus wren do not differ 
materially from those of the species elsewhere. Mr. Anthony (1895b) 
has this to say about this subspecies as observed near San Fernando, 
Baja California : 

Not uncommon throughout the region but everywhere noticeable for its ex- 
treme shyness. The normal note of the Cactus Wren is quite harsh and un- 
musical, consisting of a series of notes rapidly uttered in a monotone, but at the 
mine I once heard one give voice to a song exactly intermediate between the 
normal, discordant notes of this species and the incomparable song of the Caiion 
Wren. The full, rich cadence and clear tones of Catherpes was very pronounced 
but not more so than the characteristic gou-goii-you and deeper tones of Ilcleo- 
dytes. I was not near enough to secure the bird and before I could get within 
range it flew further up the mountain where it several times repeated the song 
that first attracted me. 

There are two sets of three eggs each in the Thayer collection 
in Cambridge. Any of these eggs could be matched by different types 
of eggs of the northern cactus wren. In one set the eggs have a pale 
pinkish ground-color and are marked with faint dots. In the other 
set the ground-color is white and the eggs are marked with distinct, 
rather large spots and small blotches of pale reddish brown or 

Mr. Bancroft (1930) says that the measurements of a series of 70 
eggs average 24.9 by 17.1 millimeters. Among the six eggs in Cam- 
bridge, the eggs showing the four extremes measure 27.2 by 16.7, 24.4 
by 17.3, and 23.7 by 17.0 millimeters. 





Although this wren was originally described from the Cape region 
of Baja California, its range is now extended northward over more 
than half of the peninsula, to about latitude 29° ; it apparently inter- 
grades with hryanti somewhere south of San Fernando. 

Kidgway (1904) gives the best description of it as follows: "Most 
like n. h. 'bryanti but much paler, with under parts less heavily and 
more sparsely marked with black; color of pileum and hindneck more 
reddish brown (mummy brown to chestnut-brown), the feathers often 
with paler terminal small spots or streaks; all the rectrices, except 
middle pair, with distinct white bars on both webs; under parts more 
purely white (distinctly tinged with buff posteriorly only in fresh 
autumnal plumage), the black markings on lower parts of body 
broadly guttate, those on throat and chest but little larger (never 
large and confluent as is often the case in other subspecies), but of 
different (irregular and variable) form." 

William Brewster (1902) says of its haunts: "In the Cape Kegion 
proper the St. Lucas Cactus Wren is everywhere a common resident 
excepting on the higher mountains, where it appears to be wholly 
wanting. Its favorite haunts are the arid, cactus-grown plains near 
the coast and the almost equally barren and waterless foot-hills, but 
at San Jose del Cabo Mr. Frazar found it abundant in gardens and 
among shrubbery near or even directly over water." 

Grilling Bancroft (1930) says of its distribution in the central por- 
tion of the peninsula: "These wrens, while common, are not nearly 
so abundant as experience elsewhere would lead one to expect. It is 
not easy to define their range because, in exceptional cases, they breed 
among the palms of the oases as well as on the lava mesas. But in 
general they limit themselves to areas of intermediate fertility, shun- 
ning alike heavy undergrowth and associations of scant vegetation. 
That leaves them the less rocky valley floors and most of the stream 
beds as well as the narrowing canons and the lateral branches running 
into the hills. The birds are appreciably more plentiful at the higher 

Nesting. — The same observer says of the nesting habits : 

In their choice of nesting sites the Cactus Wrens indulge in a wide I'ange of 
individual preference. The most popular selection is the upper part of a cholla 
or the center of a palo verde, but nests are not at all unusual in any low cactus, 
in mesquite or other trees, in heavy mistletoe, in the crotches of sahuaros, or 
within woodpecker holes. A formidable list could be made of unusual locations. 
There is, with the exception of the lining, a marked uniformity in the construction 
of the nests. Long fine grass stems are used as the basic material. These are 
woven into gourd shaped structures fifteen to eighteen inches long with the 


nesting cavity inside. Entrance is effected through a five-inch tunnel. The 
lining is almost always profuse and is usually of the feathers of some larger 
bird. Sometimes it is of plant down and in one nest nothing was used but native 

There are three nests and nine eggs of this wren in the Thayer col- 
lection in Cambridge, all collected in the Cape region, on May 1, Au- 
gust 3, and August 18. The nests are substantially built as described 
above, but one is made externally of dry grasses, dry leaves, fine twigs, 
rootlets, and lichens; it is lined with very fine grasses. The second 
one is similar. The third is made chiefly of dry grass stems, mixed 
with a lot of poultry feathers and a few pieces of rags, string, and 
cotton ; it is profusely lined with feathers and white hairs ; the feathers 
stick out all over it; evidently the wrens had secured most of their 
material from some farmyard. 

Eggs. — Evidently the San Lucas cactus wren seldom lays more 
than 3 eggs, and often fewer. The three sets referred to above consist of 
3 eggs each. Mr. Bancroft (1930) states that "the number of eggs 
laid is 2. Of the many sets examined I found but one that contained 
3 eggs. Incubated singles were unusual rather than rare. The laying 
season begins about April 25, in a desultory way, and is not under 
full head until past the middle of May." J. Stuart Rowley (1935) 
says that "of some 35 nests examined, none contained more than 3 
eggs or young, with the majority holding two." 

The eggs probably show all the variations to be seen in the eggs of 
other races of the species. The 9 eggs referred to above vary from 
ovate to ellii^tical-ovate and are somewhat glossy ; they are mostly of 
the lighter types of coloration. The measurements of 40 eggs in the 
United States National Museum average 23.7 by 17.0 millimeters; the 
eggs showing the four extremes measure 25.9 by 17.8, 19.8 by 18.3, and 
23.4 by 15.8 millimeters. 

Plumages. — Mr. Brewster (1902) writes: 

Young in juvenal plumage differ from old birds in breeding plumage only in 
having the crown of a darker, duller brown (almost slaty brown In some speci- 
mens) ; the light markings of the back rusty white and broader, on many of the 
feathers taking the form of deltoid spots; the light markings of the wings, in- 
cluding those of the outer primaries (but not the tail), strongly rusty; the 
spotting of the under parts finer and somewhat fainter. 

Young (and perhaps old birds also) in autumn differ from spring adults and 
young in juvenal plumage in having the light streaks of the back broader and 
whiter ; the flanks, abdomen, anal region, and crissum bright cinnamon or 
ochraceous buff, instead of rusty white. 


In describing this subspecies, Mr. van Rossem (1930) says that it 
"differs from all of the known races of Heleodytes hrunneica'piUus in 
possessing, when in relatively unworn plumage, pure black and white 


underparts with only very rarely the slightest traces of brown or biiffy 
on the flanks. Differs from Heleodytes hrunneica'pillus a^finis Xantus 
of the Cape region in lacking the strong buffy suffusion on the under- 
parts and in having decidedly grayer (less reddish) upperparts. 
Differs from Heleodytes hrmineicapillus hryanti Anthony of the San 
Pedro Martir District in less buffy underparts, broader dorsal streak- 
ing and from both afjlnis and hryanti in slightly smaller general size 
and in decidedly smaller bill." 

The range he gives as "Middle portion of the peninsula of Lower 
California, Mexico, from Dolores Bay (25°05' N.) north to Mesquital 
(28°30' N.) and Punta Prieta (28°56' N.) . Specimens from the two 
latter localities are variously mediate toward hryantV 



Plate 43 


The name given by Wilson for this species is now restricted to the 
long-billed marsh wrens inhabiting a rather limited breeding range 
on the Atlantic slope from Rhode Island to Virginia. Outram Bangs 
(1902) has shown that the wrens from this region have the extensively 
white lower surface, as so clearly depicted in Wilson's plate ; and he has 
given a new name to the wrens of the interior of New England and 
the Middle West. 

Julian G. Griggs spent a large portion of the summer of 1937 on 
Jamestown Island in the James Eiver, Va., studying the habits of this 
wren in some detail. He has kindly sent me his extensive unpublished 
manuscript, giving the results of his observations, with the privilege of 
quoting from it. On this island, "about 750 or nearly one-half of the 
island's 1,G00 acres are marshland, which occupies much of the southern 
part of the island. Five narrow, parallel ridges of wooded land extend 
like so many fingers into the marshy area where this study was made. 
A narrow, branching, brackish, tidal creek extends up into the morass. 
Dominants in the marsh are Peltandra and marsh grass. The latter 
dominates creek banks and other slightly raised portions, while the 
former, because of its greater preference for water, occupies the lower 
areas of the marsh. Here and there among the grass are groups and 
individuals of marsh alder, groundsel-tree, knotweed, Kosteletzhya 
virginica, rosemallow, and swamp milkweed. Cattails and longbills 
are usually associated together, but this is not the case at Jamestown." 

In other portions of the range of this subspecies, this long-billed 
marsh wren does, occasionally at least, nest in the narrowleaf cattails 
{Typha augustifolia) , notably in coastal Connecticut and coastal Vir- 
ginia. Chreswell J. Hunt (1904) , however, gives a somewhat different 


impression of the haunts of this wren ; his studies were "made along the 
tidewater creeks which empty into the Delaware River near Philadel- 
phia. These creeks have high and wooded banks on one side, while on 
the other side for the most part lie low stretches of alder swamps, 
covered during the suromer with a rank growth of spatter-dock, cala- 
mus, wild rice, and pickerel- weed, with here and there a clump of rose- 
mallow or a gorgeous cardinal flower. It is here that countless num- 
bers of these little birds find a congenial summer home." 

Aretas A. Saunders writes to me : "Here in Connecticut are many 
bits of cattail marsh. Some contain both broad and narrow-leaved 
cattail, and marsh wrens. Others contain only broad-leaved cattail and 
no marsh wrens. They will nest where there are rushes {Scirpus) or 
reeds {Phragmites) ^ 

Nesting. — The nests studied by Mr. Griggs were mainly in the marsh- 
grass habitat, and within this area the wren builds its nest in various 
plants. "The only condition necessary is that there be a place of an- 
chorage 15 or more inches above ground. As a consequence of this, 
marsh alder and groundsel trees are extensively used for nesting sites. 
A few nests were found in Hibiscus^ and one in some poison ivy, which 
happened to grow at the right angle. In a situation where alder is com- 
mon, most nests are made in its branches ; likewise, where marsh grass 
(Spartina) is thick a majority of nests are built among its stems. In 
the locality examined a majority of wren nests were fairly close to the 
water, because higher ground there afforded the right habitat. In a 
slough just north of the island, nests were found over 150 yards from 
the nearest water." 

The average height above ground of 21 nests measured early in 
June was 33 inches, one was only 15 inches, and two were 72 and 78 
inches up in groundsel-trees {Baccharls) . None of the nests in the 
marsh grass, even later in the season when it averaged 8 feet high, 
were over 51/2 feet above ground ; but one was recorded in a groundsel- 
tree that was 9 feet up. The usual number of dummy nests per female 
varied from two to four, rather fewer than reported for some other 

Mr. Hunt (1904) says that— 

along the Pensaukeu Creek each patch of calamus has its pair of Wrens, and 
each pair build, on an average four nests. In this locality the globular nests 
are generally built among the calamus stalks or in the crotch of an alder or 
elder bush. A visit to these swamps, on May 30, 1904, shovped each pair of 
birds to have three nests almost completed, while the foundation for a fourth 
was in most cases already started. They seem to work on all of them at once. 
I watched a Wren with a piece of building material in his bill. First he carried 
it to one nest and started to stick it into that, then he flew away with it to 
another nest and finally he inserted it into the walls of the third, evei*y little 
while stopping to sing a snatch of his merry song. 

Robert Ridgway (1889) says of the nests that he observed in the 


marshes of the Potomac River, near Washington, D. C. : "Although 
usually fastening the nest to upright sedge — or reed-stalks, the writer 
has found several that were built in small willow trees, at heights 
varying from 6 to 15 feet above high tide." Evidently this long- 
billed marsh wren often differs from other races of the species else- 
where, in its choice of nesting sites. 

The long-billed marsh wren must be added to the long list of birds 
that have been known to use pieces of snakeskin in their nests, for 
Josiah H. Clark (1899) found a nest near Rutherford, N. J., that was 
"lined with a cast-off snake skin, which was about a foot long." 

Eggs. — This subspecies seems to lay fewer eggs, on the average, than 
do some other races. Mr. Griggs found that the average for 23 
clutches was 4.3. Two nests had 3 eggs, 12 had 4, and 9 had 5 eggs. 

I cannot see that there is any difference in the appearance of the 
eggs from those of the species elsewhere. The measurements of 40 
eggs average 16.0 by 12.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 17.3 by 13.2, 14.2 by 11.7, and 15.2 by 11.2 milli- 
meters. These eggs are all in the United States National Museum. 

Having included so much in the life history of the prairie marsh 
wren, it seems unnecessary to add much more here, as the general 
habits of these two races are very much alike. Mr. Hunt (1904) has 
this to say about the midnight song of the long-billed marsh wren: 
"At all hours of the night the Marsh Wren's notes may be heard ring- 
ing across the marsh. Drifting with the tide, in an open boat, among 
these swamps I have heard this night song at its best. There is a 
pleasant surprise in store for the bird-lover who has missed it. This 
night song is no doubt the same as that sung in the daylight but the 
night gives to it a certain charm. One must hear it mingled with the 
quivering call of a Screech Owl and the 'quawk, quawk' of Night 
Herons to fully appreciate it." 

Mr. Griggs adds the following items of interest : "About two-thirds 
of the nests studied were destroyed between the time of the laying of 
the first egg and the time at which the young were ready to fly. In 
a very few cases the nests were damaged somewhat, or a hole was torn 
in the bottom, but in the great majority eggs and young disappeared 
without the nest being damaged. About a dozen small rodents were 
discovered in Jamestown Island nests. One, caught inside a dummy 
nest, proved to be a rice rat {Oryzomys palitstris palustris). Mr. 
Crook, of Williamsburg, found fragments of eggs and an adult bird, 
which had been eaten by some small mammal that jumped into the 
water at his approach. Only a few scattered feathers, the skull, leg, 
and wing bones of the parent bird remained." 

Only about six watersnakes and about the same number of black- 
snakes were seen in the marsh. "At no time was a snake seen sus- 
piciously close to a wren nest. One blacksnake, in a bayberry bush 


about 15 feet from a nest, was watched for some time. His movements 
were accompanied by audible rustlings, but the wren never noticed 

Wind and rain caused considerable damage to several nests, which 
the wrens deserted. "Nests in Iva or Baccharis were often insecurely 
attached. One such hung by two strands of grass for days. Young 
wrens were in it at the time and, although every slight breeze caused it 
to swing from side to side, the parent bird seemed oblivious to the 
precariousness of the situation." 

He says that territorial boundaries were very flexible. "I have 
seen males fly back and forth between dummy nests spread out over a 
distance of a hundred yards or more. Seldom was one wren seen 
chasing another. At no time was a wren noticed flying after a bird 
of another species." 

Wayne (1910) says that, in South Carolina, "this form is an abun- 
dant autumn, winter, and late spring visitant. My earliest record is 
September 4, 1895, and the latest May 17, 1897. During the migra- 
tions it is most abundant in October and April, when it is commonly 
found on the salt marshes. In winter, however, the birds prefer the 
freshwater marshes on the rice plantations, and I have seen more than 
a hundred individuals in the course of a few hours in such situations." 


Range. — Southern Canada to central Mexico. 

Breeding range. — The long-billed marsh wren breeds north to 
southern British Columbia (Chilliwack, Lac la Hache, and Spring- 
house) ; northern Alberta (Peace Eiver Landing and the Athabaska 
Delta) ; southern Saskatchewan (Prince Albert and Indian Head) ; 
southern Manitoba (Lake St. Martin, Winnipeg, and probably Chema- 
wawin) ; southern Ontario (Lake Nipissing and Ottawa) ; southern 
Quebec (Blue Sea Lake and Montreal) ; and New Brunswick (prob- 
ably Woodstock and Midgic). East to New Brunswick (probably 
Midgic) ; and south through all the Atlantic Coast States to southern 
Florida (Eldred). South to southern Florida (Eldred and Char- 
lotte Harbor) ; the Gulf coast to southeastern Texas (Port Arthur 
and Cove) ; southern Illinois (Horseshoe Lake) ; southern Missouri 
(Marionville) ; southern Kansas (Wichita) ; southern Colorado (Al- 
kali Lakes and Saguache) ; central Utah (Marysvale) ; central 
Nevada (Ruby Lake and Carson) ; southwestern Arizona (Yuma) ; 
and southern California (Calipatria and Escondido). From North 
Carolina to Texas the species is confined almost entirely to the coastal 

Winter range. — The long-billed marsh wren occasionally winters 


almost as far north as it breeds. The regular winter range is discon- 
tinuous. In the west it winters north to southwestern British Colum- 
bia (Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley) . East to southern British 
Columbia (Okanagan Valley) ; southeastern Washington (Walla 
Walla) ; eastern Oregon (Malheur Lake) ; central Utah (Bear Kiver 
Marshes and St. George) ; southern Nevada (Searchlight) ; southern 
California (opposite Yuma) ; Sonora (Sonoyta) ; and Sinaloa (Ma- 
zath'in). South to Sinaloa (Mazatlan) ; and Baja California (Santi- 
ago and San Jose del Cabo) . West to the Pacific Ocean. The eastern 
winter range is north to Texas (El Paso, Del Rio, Fort Clark, and 
Dallas) ; southern Louisiana (Cameron and Mandeville) ; western 
Florida (Pensacola) ; eastern Georgia (Okefenokee and Augusta) ; 
and coastal North Carolina (Swanquarter and Cape Hatteras). East 
to the Atlantic Ocean. South to southern Florida (Royal Palm Ham- 
mock) ; the Gulf coast to southern Texas (Harlingen and Browns- 
ville) ; and central Mexico (Veracruz, Jalapa; Hidalgo, Miraflores; 
and Jalisco, Ocotlan). West to Jalisco (Ocotlan), Chihuahua (Chi- 
huahua) , and western Texas (El Paso). 

The above range includes the entire species, which has been divided 
into 10 subspecies or geographic races. The long-billed marsh wren 
{T. p. palustris) breeds along the Atlantic coast from Rhode Island to 
Virginia; Wayne's marsh wren {T. p. waynei) breeds on the coast of 
North Carolina; Worthington's marsh wren {T. p. griseus) breeds 
from South Carolina to Florida, east coast; Marian's marsh wren 
{T. p. marianae) is found along the Gulf coast from Charlotte Harbor, 
Fla., to Mississippi; the Louisiana marsh wren {T. p. thryophilus) oc- 
curs in the coastal district of Louisiana and Texas ; the Alberta marsh 
wren {T. p. laingi) breeds in Alberta and western Saskatchewan; 
the prairie marsh wren {T. p. iliacus) breeds from the Great Plains 
and Prairie district east to Quebec, New Brunswick, and New England ; 
the western marsh wren {T. p. plesius) breeds from central British 
Columbia, central Washington, central Oregon, and northeastern Cali- 
fornia, east to central Colorado ; the tule wren {T. p. paludicola) breeds 
in the coastal district from southwestern British Columbia to southern 
California; and the Suisun marsh wren {T. p. aestuarinus) breeds in 
the interior of California from Napa and Solano Counties south to 
Tulare County. 

Spring migration. — Some late dates of spring departure are: 
Florida — Daytona Beach, April 30. Georgia — Athens, May 24. North 
Carolina— Chapel Hill, May 7. Texas— Lytle, May 12. 

Early dates of spring arrival are : Georgia — ^Macon, March 27. North 
Carolina — Raleigh, April 14. District of Columbia — Washington, 
April 17. Pennsylvania — Harrisburg, April 26. New Jersey — Cape 


May, April 28. New York — Rochester, April 27. Massachusetts — 
Cambridge, April 23. Vermont — Burlington, May 12. Kentucky — 
Bowling Green, May 5. Ohio — Sandusky, April 19. Ontario — Hamil- 
ton, April 6. Indiana — Bloomington, April 7. Michigan — Ann Arbor, 
April 20. Illinois — Chicago, April 25. Wisconsin — Madison, April 
11. Missouri — St. Louis, April 13. Iowa — Sioux City, April 17. 
Minnesota — Minneapolis, April 20. Manitoba — Margaret, May 3. 
Kansas — Harper, April 4. Nebraska — Lincoln, April 6. South 
Dakota — Yankton, April 23. North Dakota — ^Wahpeton, April 17. 
New Mexico — Albuquerque, April 6. Colorado — Boulder, April 3. 

Fall migration. — Some late dates of fall departures are: British 
Columbia — Okanagan Landing, November 18. Wyoming — Laramie, 
October 15. Colorado — Boulder, October 22. New Mexico — Mesilla, 
October 16, Manitoba — Aweme, October 16. North Dakota — Argus- 
ville, October 21. South Dakota — Sioux Falls, October 26. Ne- 
braska — Nebraska City, November 12. Kansas — Lawrence, October 
22. Minnesota — St. Vincent, October 15. Wisconsin — Milwaukee, 
October 23. Iowa — Keokuk, November 21. Missouri — Forsyth, Octo- 
ber 2. Michigan — Vicksburg, November 6. Illinois — La Grange, Oc- 
tober 17. Indiana — Indianapolis, November 9. Ontario — Toronto, 
October 15. Ohio — Oberlin, November 19. Kentucky — Danville, 
October 27. Massachusetts — Boston, November 30. New York — New 
York, October 20. New Jersey — Elizabeth, October 20. Pennsyl- 
vania — Jeffersonville, October 29. District of Columbia — Washing- 
ton, November 16. North Carolina — Ealeigh, October 19. Georgia — 
Athens, October 11. 

Early dates of fall arrival are : North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Sep- 
tember 20. Georgia — Athens, September 24. Florida — Fernandina, 
September 17. Texas — Lytle, October 10. 

Casual record. — A specimen was collected at Godthaab, Greenland, 
in May 1823. 

Egg dates. — ^Alberta : 28 records. May 26 to July 8 ; 18 records, June 
16 to 20. 

California: 113 records, March 24 to July 22; 63 records, May 4 to 
31, indicating the height of the season. 

Florida: 39 records. May 2 to August 13; 20 records. May 24 to 
June 11. 

Illinois : 48 records. May 26 to July 27 ; 29 records, May 30 to June 8. 

Massachusetts : 31 records. May 27 to June 28 ; 17 records, June 6 to 

New York : 60 records, May 12 to August 13 ; 42 records, June 4 to 24. 

Virginia : 37 records, April 25 to June 30 ; 26 records, June 6 to 26. 

Washington : 31 records, March 15 to June 27; 16 records, March 15 
to April 22 ; 10 records, June 8 to 27. 

Wisconsin : 12 records. May 26 to July 14. 




Plate 44 


This is the rather small, decidedly gray race of the long-billed marsh 
wrens that is apparently resident in the Atlantic coast region from 
South Carolina to northern Florida. 

In naming this race, William Brewster (1893) compares it with the 
northern race as follows : "Black of upper parts much duller and less 
extended than in palustris, usually confined to the extreme sides of the 
crown and a short narrow area in the middle of the back, and in 
extreme specimens almost wholly absent. Brown of sides, flanks, and 
upper parts pale and grayish. Dark markings of the under tail- 
coverts, flanks, sides, and breast faint, confused and inconspicuous, 
sometimes practically wanting." 

The haunts and habits of Worthington's marsh wren are very similar 
to those of the more northern coastal race. It is confined almost 
entirely during the breeding season, and probably for the rest of the 
year, to the extensive salt marshes along the tidal creeks. Wayne 
(1910) says that, near Charleston, S. C, when he was a boy, these 
"birds fairly swarmed throughout the high marshes bordering these 
creeks and it was not uncommon to find from 25 to 50 nests in a few 
hours of careful search." In Florida, according to Arthur H. Howell 
(1932), "the birds live in the wettest and boggiest parts of the salt 
marshes, chiefly on the borders of the tidal creeks, where their nests 
are fastened to the growing stems of the rushes, at a height of 2 or 3 
feet above the water." Ivan R. Tomkins (1932) has found it along 
the Savannah River to about 2 miles west of Savannah, or about 
17 miles inland from the outer islands, including the river ricefields, 
where the water is either fresh or brackish according to the height 
of the river. 

Nesting. — Mr. Howell says that these wrens "breed in loose colonies, 
often of considerable size." The nests "are constructed of dead leaves 
of rushes and marsh grasses woven together and lined with fine grasses 
and down from the cattails." What few nests of this wren I have 
seen are similar to nests of the species I have seen elsewhere. A nest 
in my collection was taken by Mr. Worthington in Nassau County, 
Fla. ; it was 3 feet above the mud, suspended amongst the grass, near 
the edge of a creek in a salt marsh ; it held six fresh eggs on July 6, 

Eggs. — What eggs I have seen are similar to the eggs of other long- 
billed marsh wrens, showing the usual variations. Mr. Wayne (1910), 
however, says: "On several occasions, between the years 1877 and 


1879, I remember distinctly having found pure white eggs of this 
form with a speck or two of purplish shell markings at the larger 
end. The eggs are, however, normally chocolate color, but sometimes 
of a paler shade and spotted with brownish olive. From four to 
six eggs are laid, * * * Three broods are certainly raised, for I have 
taken eggs as late as August 9." 

The measurements of 40 eggs in the United States National Museum 
average 15.4 by 11.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 16.5 by 12.2, 15.5 by 12.5, and 14.1 by 11.1 millimeters. 

I can find nothing in the recorded habits of this wren that is peculiar 
to the race. Mr. Wayne says that — 

a mouse (Hespcromys leucopus), which lives in the marsh and builds a nest 
similar to that of the wren, commonly takes possession of the nest and often 
eats the eggs as Well as the young. * * * At the present time the birds are 
rare and confined to a few restricted and widely separated localities, the great 
cyclone of August 27 and 28, 1893, having almost exterminated them. This form 
is non-migratory, and I understand that it is abundant on the coast of Georgia. 
If the birds were migratory the places of those that were destroyed by the 
cyclone of 1893 would be filled by migrants from Florida and Georgia. This, 
however, has not been the case, showing conclusively that this form is non- 



Although much of the earlier literature on the status and distribu- 
tion of Marian's marsh wren is decidedly confusing, it now seems 
safe to conclude that it is the resident, breeding form on the west 
coast of Florida. The 1931 Check-list gives as its range, "Gulf coast 
from Charlotte Harbor, Florida, to Mississippi." The latest author- 
ity on Florida birds, Arthur H. Howell (1932) calls it "an abundant 
resident on the Gulf coast from St. Marks soutli to Old Tampa Bay. 
* * * Marsh Wrens are not known to breed at Pensacola, and we 
found no breeding colonies from that point eastward until we reached 
St. Marks ; from there southward they are abundant in suitable marshes 
as far as Tarpon Springs. Pennock reported a few birds seen in Char- 
lotte Harbor, April 11 and 13, 1921, at which time he took a specimen 
and observed a nearly completed nest." 

The Rev. H. E. Wheeler (1931) made a survey of the breeding 
colonies of Marian's marsh wren on the coast of Alabama, establishing 
the fact that this wren breeds in all suitable coastal marshes through- 
out the whole Gulf coast of that State, but he evidently found no 
breeding records for Mississippi. He, also, made an exhaustive study 
of the previous literature relating to this wren on the Gulf coast and to 
its supposed occurrence on the Atlantic coast, which is well worth 
reading, as an interesting history of the confusion that has existed. 


and to which the reader is referred, as space will permit only a few 
quotations from his excellent paper. 

A perusal of the literature that appeared prior to 1932 will reveal 
some confusing statements. Dr. Louis B. Bishop (1904) made the 
following surprising comment : "Originally described from the west 
coast of Florida and believed to be resident there and restricted to 
that locality, it has only recently become evident that the real home of 
Marian's Wren is in the salt marshes that fringe the coast of North 
Carolina. There it is common in spring, breeds, and occasionally re- 
mains in winter, as I took one on Pea Island — 30 miles north of Hat- 
teras — on Feb. 8, 1901, and found it tolerably common there in Jan- 
uary, 1904." He found fresh nests there in May, and, after he left, 
nests with eggs were sent to him from there. 

Ridgway (1904) gave the range as south Atlantic coast of United 
States from North Carolina to South Carolina and western Florida. 
And the 1910 Check-list gave it as breeding on the coast of North Caro- 
lina and wintering south to South Carolina and the west coast of 
Florida. Arthur T. Wayne (1910) backs up Dr. Bishop by saying 
that "it breeds, as far as is known, only on the North Carolina coast." 
He records it as a migrant in South Carolina, where he says that "they 
are common mitil the beginning of November, when the great major- 
ity migrate southward, but a few winter regularly among dense reeds 
which grow in profusion on some of the coast islands." Strangely 
enough, the 1931 Check-list does not record any marsh wren as breed- 
ing on the coast of North Carolina ! 

It has since become evident that all the Atlantic coast records of 
supposed Marian's marsh wrens, published prior to 1930, are referable 
to the new dark-colored race, Telmatodytes palustris waynei, recently 
described by Dingle and Sprunt (1932). This race is so strikingly 
similar to marianae in most of its characters that the confusing of 
the two is not surprising. The status of loaynei as the breeding marsh 
wren of the North Carolina coast has recently been confirmed by Dr. 
Alexander Wetmore (1941) and his assistants, as one of the results 
of their field work there during 1939. 

In his original description of marianae^ W. E. D. Scott (1888b) 
says : "The great difference between this species and palustns is in the 
conspicuous barring of the upper and under tail-coverts and the feath- 
ers of the flanks, and olive instead of rufous brown coloring through- 
out, with the much darker coloration of underparts." The differences 
between marianae and toaynei are not so well marked and are much 
less conspicuous. Dingle and Sprunt (1932) say : "x\. satisfactory com- 
parison of Telmatodytes palnstns loaynei with marianae is not possible 
on account of inadequacy of specimens of the latter. In size, waynei 
seems to be slightly larger than the Florida form ; in color it is quite 
similar, except that there is more white on the under parts." 


In order to satisfy me as to the characters that separate waynei 
from 77ia7ia7ia>e, James L. Peters and James C. Grecnway helped me 
examine the series of botli forms in the Museum of Comparative Zo- 
ology in Cambridge, where there are 31 specimens from the west coast 
of Florida and 18 specimens from North and South Carolina. It 
seems to me that, in the Florida birds, the sides of the head and 
neck average darker, the black space on the back is rather more ex- 
tensive and the flanks are browner than in the Carolina birds; also, 
the breast, in adults at least, is more inclined to be mottled with 
dusky, and there is much less white on the under parts. These are 
only average differences and are rather slight, but the Carolina bird 
seems to be far enough removed geographically to warrant its recog- 
nition as a subspecies. 

Kidgway ( 1904) gives the best description of Marian's marsh wren 
as follows: 

Similar to T. p. palustris, but smaller, the coloration much darker ; pileum 
usually entirely black or with black largely predominating; white streaks of 
interscapular region narrower, sometimes almost obliterated ; brown of scapulars, 
rump, etc., darker, the upper tail-coverts (sometimes the whole rump) usually 
barred with dusky; sides and flanks more extensively, and usually darker, 
brown than in T. p. palustris, the chest often strongly shaded pale brown or 
brownish buff; frequently the chest or sides (or both) are speckled with dusky, 
and sometimes the sides and flanks are barred with darker brown ; under tail- 
coverts distinctly, often broadly, barred with brown or dusky ; mandible usually 
dusky for much the greater part of its length. 

As to its haimts in the vicinity of Tarpon Springs, Fla., the type 
locality, W. E. D. Scott (1890) says: "I have found them most com- 
monly on the salt water marshes at the head of tide water, but have 
detected them in tlie saw-grasses of the fresh water lakes and ponds 
that I have investigated for at least ten miles back from the coast." 

Nesting. — Arthur H. Howell (1932) writes: "In the extensive salt 
marshes at the mouth of Pithlachascotee River, near Port Richey, 
we found these Wrens breeding commonly in the dense growth of 
Juncus, standing 4 to 5 feet high. On May 28, 1918, we collected 
several well-grown young birds. In the marsh at Elvers, June 2, 
1919, D. J. Nicholson observed several nests from 5 to 9 feet above 
the ground in mangrove trees." 

There are two sets of eggs in my collection, taken by C. J. Pennock, 
near St. Marks, Fla., that came from nests 2 feet above the ground 
in saw grass. 

D. J. Nicholson wrote to Mr. Wheeler (1931) that these wrens near 
New Port Richey "nest among Juncus (/. roemeriamis) , a sharp- 
pointed rush, and princij^ally in mangrove trees from 5 to 14 feet above 
the mud in salt marshes. The tree-nesting may seem strange to you 
and it was quite a surprise to me wlien I found them nesting under 


such odd circumstances. I think high water and rats had something 
to do with this nesting custom here, and it may be a comparatively 
recent habit." From the same source of information, Mr. Wheeler 
goes on to say : 

Nests of marianae found in mangrove trees were fastened to the forks of small 
limbs, generally at their ends, or in the tops of small mangrove bushes. * * * 
Occupied nests are lined with soft shredded grasses, and sometimes with feathers, 
and they are so cleverly woven together that they are a complete protection 
against rain. None have even been found that were damp inside. Although 
the marsh wrens nest in colonies, the nests of marianae are seldom less than 40 
feet apart. On the east coast of Florida Nicholson counted four to six "dummy 
nests" to every occupied nest of grisetis; but in the colonies of marianae on the 
west coast near Elfers, he found only one or two bachelor nests to one that was 

Referring to the coast of Alabama, he writes : 

It was on the tidal fiats, or rather monotypic marshes, of Heron Bayou that 
we found marsh wrens nesting, enough to satisfy the heart of any ornithologist. 
This region of vast and almost impenetrable marshes is known to the hshermen 
as West Heron Bay. Several narrow bayous penetrate the grass-grown region, 
one of them widening into a so-called lake. In such a region, in the tall bladed 
grasses, which grow higher than the rushes, and nearer open water, we found 
the marsh wrens numerous. They were singing near their neatly built nests, 
their entrancing songs being much in the tempo of the songs of the Pi'airie 
Marsh Wren. * ♦ * 

The nest of Marian's Marsh Wren dilTers in no essential way from the nest 
of other closely-related species or subspecies. It is globular in shape, well secured 
to the taller marsh grasses, and usually about 2 or 3 feet above high tide. Often- 
times the nest can be detected from a moving skifC. The bachelor nests, which are 
unlined, are in the proportion of four or five to one which is lined and occupied. 

Eggs. — Marian's marsh wren seems to lay fewer eggs than the north- 
ern races of the species, usually three to five. These are like the eggs 
of the species' elsewhere and show the usual variations, some being 
quite pale, but most of them being of a deep, rich chocolate-brown; 
many have a wreath of darker spots about the larger end. The meas- 
urements of 40 eggs average 15.4 by 12.2 millimeters ; the eggs showing 
the four extremes measure 16.4 by 12.7, 16.1 by 12.9, 14.2 by 11.9, and 
15.0 by 11.0 millimeters. 

Behavior. — Mr. Wheeler (1931) writes: "Contrary to our expecta- 
tion, we did not find these wrens particularly shy. The breeding birds 
were very easy to approach; and although they did not remain long 
on open perches they seemed quite unmindful of our invasion of their 
territory, singing joyously all the while, and often within 2 or 3 feet 
of us. Often and again the males would reappear and perch in plain 
view on the side of the tallest reed, and that without interruption of 
their song. If we could have walked through the thick vegetation at 
low tide with a Graflex camera, we might have gotten pictures of the 
birds in action." 

758066—48 -17 



Comment on this subspecies was made under Marian's marsh wren, 
to which the reader is referred. Since that account was written, the 
above subspecies has been accepted and will appear in the next Check- 

Dingle and Sprunt (1932) describe it as "similar to Telmatodytes 
palustris palustris, but smaller; bill shorter and more slender; wing, 
tail and tarsus average shorter ; upper parts darker, inclining more to 
olive brown; head and nape sooty black, the majority of specimens 
showing a short, faint median streak ; black dorsal area of greater ex- 
tent; tail and under tail coverts more heavily barred; flanks richer 
brown ; these, and sides of breast with more or less barring." 

"A satisfactory comparison of Telmatodytes palustris waynei with 
marianae^'' these authors say, "is not possible on account of inadequacy 
of specimens of the latter. In size, waynei seems to be slightly larger 
than the Florida form ; in color it is quite similar, except that there is 
more white on the under parts." 

The breeding range of this form seems to be on the coast of North 
Carolina, and it is found in South Carolina and Georgia in winter. 
See remarks under marianae. Its habits are apparently no different 
from those of the other coastal races of the species. 




The long-billed marsh wren of the coast region of southern Louisiana 
is very much like Marian's marsh wren and evidently closely related to 
it. Ridgway (1904) makes this comparison: "Similar to T. p. mari- 
anae^ but paler and still smaller; pileum always extensively brown 
medially, often mostly brown ; brown of scapulars, rump, etc., lighter, 
sometimes approaching broccoli brown or drab ; upper tail-coverts un- 
barred, or with bars very indistinct ; under parts never (?) speckled, 
but chest more or less strongly tinged with brownish buff, and sides and 
flanks extensively brown. Differing from T. p. palustris in decidedly 
smaller size, duller brown of upper parts, and more extensively brown 
under parts." 

Dr. Oberholser (1938) says that "it lives in the marshes and in the 
high grass of the coast meadows, among the reeds, rushes, grasses, and 
similar kinds of vegetation," which indicates that it is similar in all 
its habits to the other southern coastal races. 

The measurements of only five eggs of the Louisiana marsh wren 
are available. The eggs are in the United States National Museum. 
The eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.0 by 12.4 and 15.3 by 
11.5 millimeters. 





Dr. Francis Harper (1926) describes this wren as "nearest to T. p. 
iliacits, but paler on scapulars, rump, upper tail-coverts, and flanks ; 
median area on forehead and crown more distinct. ( T. p. plesius is a 
much browner and duller bird than laingi.) " 

The Athabaska Delta, where the type specimen of this race was 
taken, is probably the northernmost point at which any long-billed 
marsh wrens breed. Dr. Harper gives, as the range of this subspecies 
in summer, Alberta and western Saskatchewan, and says that it seems 
to intergrade with the prairie marsh wren in south-central Saskatche- 
wan, and that the area of intergradation "may coincide with the 
approximate boundary between the prairies on the east and the plains 
on the west." 

The habits of the Alberta marsh wren are apparently similar in all 
respects to those of the prairie marsh wren. 

There is a very pretty nest of tliis wren in the Thayer collection 
in Cambridge, taken near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, on June 2, 1900. 
It was "attached to tules in a muskeg" and was constructed chiefly of 
a downy substance that looks like cattail down, very compactly felted 
and reinforced with interwoven strips of the tules, or other marsh 
plants, which bound the whole structure very firmly together; its 
walls are so thick and solid that it must have been practically rain- 
proof ; it is about 7 inches high and about 4 inches in diameter. There 
is another nest, from the Little Red Deer River, Alberta, that is more 
normal for the species, having been attached to the stems of bulrushes 
and made of the usual materials. 

A. D. Henderson, of Belvedere, Alberta, writes to me of an ex- 
perience that was new to him : "On July 8 I pushed my canoe into a 
large bed of tules where marsh wrens were singing, leaving it close 
to an empty nest. To enable me to find the canoe again without 
difficulty after wading the tule bed, I attached a bunch of white cotton 
to the tops of tall tules. On July 12 I returned to the same spot and 
found that the wren had profusely bedecked the nest with the cotton 
I had left nearby. It was put on quite loosely and not woven into 
the structure." 

The eggs of the Alberta marsh wren apparently show the usual vari- 
ations common to the species. The measurements of 23 eggs average 
16.3 by 12.3 millimetters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 
16.8 by 12.2, 16.4 by 13.1, 15.2 by 12.7, and 15.9 by 11.9 millimeters. 

Plates 45, 46 


The old familiar type name, long-billed marsh wren {T. f. palus- 
fris), has been restricted to the wrens of this species living on the 
Atlantic slope from Khode Island to Virginia, and the birds of in- 
terior New England and the middle west are now known by the above 
names. Such are the vagaries of name-shifting that our old friend of 
the Massachusetts marshes is now called the "prairie" marsh wren, 
though hundreds of miles away from the nearest prairies ! In describ- 
ing this race, Mr. Bangs ( 1902) writes : 

At present there are confused under the name Cistothorus palustris (Wilson) 
two quite distinct birds ; one, true C. palustris, breeding in the salt and brackish 
marshes of the Atlantic coast from Connecticut southward ; the other in- 
habiting the inland fresh-water marshes and extending north to Massachusetts, 
Ontario and southern Manitoba. The former, a small bird, has the chin, throat 
and belly pure white and the breast is' usually white also, though sometimes 
faintly clouded with pale brownish, with the rump, upper tail-coverts and scapu- 
lars dusky brown. The latter is a decidedly larger form, In which the chin, 
throat and belly are buffy or brownish white, the breast much more distinctly 
clouded with brownish and the rump, upper tail-coverts and scapulars reddish 

Wilson's plate shows a decidedly white-breasted bird, to which he 
gave the name palustris; there can be no doubt, therefore, that the 
Atlantic coast bird should carry the type name. 

The prairie marsh wren is naturally not evenly distributed through- 
out its wide range. Marshes of the type it requires are often widely 
scattered, or entirely lacking over large areas. Small, isolated marshes 
of less than an acre in extent are usually avoided, but where the larger 
marshes contain suitable vegetation the wrens may be very numerous 
and their nests more so. 

The favorite haunts of the prairie marsh wren are the large fresh- 
water marshes of the interior, where there is a dense growth of cattails 
{Typha angustifolia and T. latifolia)^ bulrushes (Scirpus Jacustris), 
sedges {Carex) , or wildrice {Zizania aquatica) , which are often mixed 
with tall marsh grasses of various kinds, or with a scattering growth 
of buttonbush {C ephalanthus) and other small bushes. In eastern 
Massachusetts we sometimes find them along the banl?:s of tidal rivers, 
where the water is brackish and where there is a thick growth of 
tall reeds and salt-marsh grasses. I have found them, also, in pure 
stands of wildrice bordering a sluggish inland river. 

Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1905) tells of a large marsh in Essex 
County, Mass., in which "the growth of rushes and grasses is rank 
and tall, and among these a multitude of Long-billed Marsh Wrens 


live and build their nests. The rush-like plants in which they breed 
are chiefly as follows, belonging to several widely separated families : 
great bulrush {Scirjms lacustris), horse-tail {Equisetum limonsuin), 
sweet flag {Acorus calamus)^ blue joint-grass {CalaTriagrostis cana- 
densis)^ reed canary-grass {Phalaris arundinacea) y 

Spring. — Very little seems to be known about the migrations of 
the marsh wrens. Elon H. Eaton (1914) says: "Evidently they 
migrate at night, and high in the air, so as to see their way and escape 
their enemies more successfully." They arrive in central New York 
from May 4 to 16. 

Dr. Wilfred A. Welter (1935) has given us such a fine life history 
of the prairie marsh wren, based on extensive observations at Ithaca, 
N. Y., and at Staples, Minn., that I cannot do better than to quote 
from the results of his work. At both places he found that the average 
date for the arrival of the males was May 10 and that the females 
came between May 20 and 28. Males begin to select and defend their 
breeding territories soon after their arrival. He says: 

The preferred habitat is not, as one might suppose, a dense tangled mass of 
dried and broken cat-tails, remnants of the preceding season, but a compara- 
tively open area with a few tattered stalks and an abundance of some species of 

* * * Fighting over territorial rights between males is, to a large extent, 
a matter of outblufling the opponent. A male approaching too closely to the 
boundary of another's area is challenged by the song of the rightful owner. 
This is usually sufficient for the intruder, but sometimes the challenge is accepted 
by the visitor giving voice to his emotions and continuing to transgress upon 
the area in question. The first male in this case fluffs out his feathers to impress 
the other and, if necessary, fiies at his opponent. The usurper usually recipro- 
cates by flying at his neighbor a time or two and then, at least in all instances 
observed, becomes the vanquished and departs from the scene of battle. 

* * * In an area 400 by 650 feet in the Renwick Marsh at the head of Lake 
Cayuga eight males took up residence in the spring of 1931. * * ♦ The cat- 
tail-sedge association was greatly preferred to the grass association by the 
male birds in selecting territories. * * * TypJia angustifolia is much pre- 
ferred to T. latifolia as a nesting site. * * * The male territories in the 
favored area were noticeably smaller than in the grassy area. A single monog- 
amous male occupied a territory of from 13,000 to 15,000 square feet, while 
in the grass association this was extended to approximately 30,000 square feet. 
The territory of a polygamous male, on the other hand, was considerably larger 
than that of a monogamous male nesting in the same sort of vegetation. * ♦ * 
This difference in size can readily be accounted for by the fact that the female 
birds do not tolerate each other during the nesting season. As a result those 
males inteut upon leading dual lives must separate the objects of their atfection 
as widely as possible. 

Courtship. — The courtship of the marsh wren is expressed in song 
and in display. According to Dr. Welter (1935) , "song does not seem 
to be as important in attracting the female as display. Of course the 
song originally attracts the prospective mate into the territory and then 
display becomes first in importance. When the females begin to arrive 


from the south the males sing almost constantly." The songs at this 
time often average about 25 per minute, but during nest building the 
songs are less numerous and the intervals between singing periods 
become longer. 

"The display of the male is quite simple but interesting. "When the 
female is near he will take up his station a foot or two above her, fluflf 
out his breast feathers and under tail coverts, and jauntily cock his tail 
over his back so that it almost touches. He now resembles a tiny ball 
of feathers perched among the reeds. As he becomes more animated he 
beats his partially folded wings up and down rapidly and sways his 
head dizzily from side to side. The female probably will fail to notice 
him, or at least she will not indicate any interest, and, after pursuing 
her and displaying for several minutes, he will burst into song and fly 
to another portion of the territory." 

The sexual organs of the male are well developed when he arrives, 
but those of the female are not, so that she has to avoid him until she is 
ready. Dr. Welter continues : 

During the period of nest construction she reaches the height of her development 
and is ready for the mating act. When the male approaches her at this time, 
singing, she climbs up a cat-tail stalk and gives the trill which has already been 
described. Then she beats her wings rapidly, points her bill toward the zenith, 
and places her tail well over her back. The male goes through the courtship 
display previously described. At the proper time he climbs upon the back of his 
mate, beats his wings rapidly as the cloacae come in contact and copulation is 
completed. The whole procedure takes but a few seconds. Both remain in the 
immediate vicinity for a short time, the male with feathers fluffed out and tail up, 
the female quiet and demure. 

It is usually the male who tries to induce the female into copulation but on one 
occasion the female was observed going through the behavior leading to the mating 
act to entice the male. In this instance the act had been completed 25 minutes 
previously. The male, not giving the proper response, was chased by the female 
among the cat-tails and it is not known whether she was successful or not. 

Dr. Welter believes that the male is "essentially polygamous while 
the female is not." Several of the territories were inhabited by one 
male and two females, and in one doubtful case it was thought that a 
male had three mates. There was another doubtful case of polyandry, 
where a female had no regular mate, and her nest was placed between 
the territories of two mated males. 

Nesting. — The prairie marsh wren nests in wet marshes, where the 
water is from a few inches to 2 or 3 feet deep, along the banks of tidal 
rivers where the water is brackish (in Massachusetts), along sluggish 
inland streams, around the shores of ponds, and in inland marshes or 
sloughs. It seems to prefer to build its nest in the narrowleaf cattail 
{Typha angitstifolia) , seldom using the broadleaf species {T. lati- 
folia). Early in the season, before the green flags have grown to suf- 
ficient height, I have found the nest in some thick bunch of the dead 
flags of the previous season, but the new green flags are much pre- 


ferred. The nests are usually placed 1 to 3 feet above water, seldom 
higher, and are securely fastened to two or more stems of the cattails. 

Nests are less often placed in bulrushes (Scirpiis), sedges (Carex), 
wildrice {Zizania) , tall marsh grasses, or even small bushes. In North 
Dakota we found these wrens nesting around the edges of the sloughs 
in either dead or green cattails, or in the bulrushes. Near Lake Win- 
nipegosis, Manitoba, we found a nest firmly attached to the canes of 
bulrushes, 4 feet above the water ; it was within 4 feet of a canvasback's 
nest and was lined with down from the nest of the duck. The nest is 
said to be shaped like a coconut, or globular, but some that I have seen 
have been egg-shaped with the pointed end at the bottom. The en- 
trance is a small round hole, usually near the top. 

Dr. Welter (1935) gives an elaborate account of the building of the 
brood nest, which is done almost entirely by the female, and which 
requires 5 to 8 days, beginning 6 to 15 days after her arrival. He 
writes : 

The initial effort in building consists of lashing the supporting plants to- 
gether and in this way form a cup-like foundation upon which the remainder of 
the nest rests. Carex and Calamagrostis are the chief materials used in this part 
of the structure. The outer walls which are composed for the most part of long 
strips of cattail leaves and stems and leaves of sedges and grasses is the roughest 
part of the structure. Water-soaked materials, often more than a foot long, are 
used here as they are more pliable and can more easily be woven together. The 
first strands are woven around the long axis and others, as the nest assumes 
shape, are put in at various angles. Some of these strands are fastened to the 
supporting structure by actually weaving these stems into the nest. Some of 
the growing leaves are also woven into the outer walls. If the support is a sedge 
or a grass, leaves may form a good share of the periphery. An opening is left on 
one side about two-thirds of the distance from the bottom of the nest. At this 
stage a dummy would be complete. The walls average at least a half inch in 
thickness and the external measurements of the entire structure approximate 
seven and five inches for the vertical and horizontal diameters, respectively. 
Inner diameters average five and three inches. 

The outer shell is a small part of the completed structure, and only 2 days are 
required to build it. The remainder of the work is done from the inside and one 
must take a nest to pieces to get an idea of its arrangement. Grass and sedge 
leaves and small stems are used to form the second layer. This gives the walls 
firmness and tends to fill in the large air spaces which are necessarily present 
among the coarse materials of the outer walls. 

The nest layer to be added seems to function as an insulating region. Cat-tail 
down, feathers, small unidentified rootlets, entire plants of Lemna, and decayed 
fragments of Typha and Carex are the materials most often used. These are also 
placed into the structure in a wet condition so that, when dry, they form a compact 
and tight-fitting region which serves as a non-conductor of heat, cold, and moisture. 

The innermost region is composed of finely shredded pieces of the vascular 
materials of the plants forming the outer layers. A large proportion of it is 
very fine strips of sedges and grasses of the preceding year. Feathers of almost 
any available sort are used here. Those from the following birds have been identi- 
fied: Red-winged Blackbird, Virginia Rail, American Bittern, Pheasant, Ruffed 
Grouse, and domestic chicken. The projection at the opening is a part of this in- 


ner lining. This "door-step" or sill is always present In the female nest but is 
lacking in the nests of the male. It is possible, therefore, to determine the sex 
which built a given nest by checking for the presence of this sill. This projection 
forms the floor of the opening and extends farther into the nest than any other 
part of the lining. * * * 

One wonders what the function of this door-step might be. Perhaps it serves 
as a protection to the eggs and young as the nest, owing to the uneven growth 
of the supporting plants, often assumes a distorted position which would allow 
the contents to roll out were it not for this structure. In like manner when the 
nests are placed in sedges or grasses winds alter the nests to such an extent that 
the young or eggs would be endangered if no sill were there to prevent tlie 

Several observers have reported mud in the lining of the nests, but 
Dr. Welter and others have failed to note it ; perhaps some mud may 
be brought in accidentally with material secured from the muddy 
floor of the marsh ; it seems doubtful if the wrens every carry in mud 

The long-billed marsh wrens are notorious for building extra or 
dummy nests, which are almost never occupied as brood nests. These 
are built by the males, mainly during the 10 days or so intervening 
between the arrival of the males and the coming of the females. 
Anywhere from 1 to 10, usually not more than half a dozen, are more 
or less incompletely constructed by a single male within the limits of 
his territory. We do not fully understand the reason for these extra 
nests; several theories have been advanced to account for the habit, 
which is not wholly confined to this species, but none of the theories 
appears wholly satisfactory. The most plausible theory seems to be 
that it gives the birds an outlet for surplus energy during the period 
of sexual activity, for it almost always ends soon after the females 
arrive and mating takes place. These male nests are never as fully 
completed as are the brood nests ; they usually do not go beyond the 
first stage mentioned above, and are often abandoned before they 
reach even that stage of completion. There is little evidence that they 
are ever used as brood nests, or as sleeping places for the males, or as 
territorial land marks. 

A. D. DuBois mentions in his notes a nest that was of the "usual 
construction except that the top of the nest was covered by green 
leaves bent over and woven together over the top. All the previous 
nests observed here, having the green leaves woven over (nearly a 
dozen so noted) were empty nests." 

Milton B. Trautman (1940) noted that, out of 208 nests, observed 
at Buckeye Lake, Ohio, 161 had their openings facing toward the 
south or west. There was one colony, "which was an exception, for 
11 of 19 nests opened toward the northeast." 

Eggs. — The marsh wren's set may consist of 3 to 10 eggs ; the larger 
numbers are rare; 5 or 6 seem to be the commonest numbers. They 


are generally ovate, sometimes more rounded and rarely more 
pointed ; they are not glossy unless heavily incubated. Marsh wrens' 
eggs are unique in color, the general effect being dull brownish, 
"Verona brown" to "snuff brown," or the color of dry, powdered 
baking chocolate. The ground color varies from "snuff brown" to 
pale "pinkish cinnamon" ; it is generally evenly sprinkled with minute 
dots, or very small spots of darker shades of brown, often partially, 
or wholly, obscuring the ground color ; these markings are sometimes 
concentrated into a ring or a cap at the largo end. F. W. Braund 
tells me that "light or stony gray" eggs are often found in Ohio. I 
have seen eggs with a pinkish ground color and reddish brown spots 
that resembled the eggs of the house wren, but these are rare. Very 
rarely an egg, or a whole set of eggs, is pure white and unmarked. 

The measurements of 40 eggs average 16.5 by 12.4 millimeters; 
the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.8 by 12,1, 17.6 by 
13.3, 15.0 by 13.0, and 17.6 by 11.2 millimeters. 

Young. — The incubation period, as noted by several observers, is 
about 13 days, and the young remain in the nest for about the same 
length of time, or a day longer, if not disturbed; Dr. Welter (1935) 
says 14 days. Incubation seems to be performed wholly by the female, 
and she feeds the young while they are in the nest; the male assists in 
this afterward. Following are some of Dr. Welter's observations on 
the young : 

The type of food delivered to the young by the female is determiued to a 
certain extent by the age of the nestlings. At first this consists of very small 
juicy morsels such as mosquitoes and their larvae, larval Tipulids, midges, and 
other delicate forms. The mother brings a whole beakful of food to the nest 
at one time and parcels it out to the hungry occupants. * * * During the 
morning and evening approximately 10 trips are made per hour with food, but 
during midday this number is somewhat reduced. 

As the nestlings grow the insects brought to the nest become appreciably larger 
in size. Ground, diving, and long-horned beetles, caterpillars of various assort- 
ments, sawflies and other hymenoptera, and other accessible forms now consti- 
tute the diet of the ever-hungry young. Sometimes the insect is so large that 
the young bird experiences difficulties in swallowing it. In such instances the 
female takes the hexapod to the side of the nest, chops and tears it into several 
smaller morsels, and then brings it back for a second trial which is usually a 
success. * * * 

Even when the nestlings are very young, little time during the day is given 
to brooding. Usually after a feeding or two the young are brooded for a few 
minutes and then feeding is resumed. My records show a total brooding of 
18 minutes per hour when the young are 2 days old. As the nestlings increase 
in size the brooding periods become shorter and the intervals between such 
periods become longer, so that, after the first week, they are discontinued during 
the hours of daylight. * * * 

The excreta, enclosed in their envelopes, are removed by the female after feed- 
ing. These droppings are usually carried some distance from the nest and 
deposited, but occasionally the female has been observed eating them. * * * 


When the young are small the faecal material is deposited in the bottom of the 
nest. As the nestlings increase in size, however, they maneuver about until they 
assume a position facing away from the entrance, and the dropping is ejected 
on the periphery oi .he nest. During the later period of nest lile the young 
succeed in ejecting the excrement witli such force that it is carried over the side 
of the nest and drops to the ground. * * 

Other waste materials, such as eggshells, infertile eggs, or any young 
that might die in the nest are carried away. The young increase in 
weight very rapidly, from about 0.87 gram at hatching to about 11.08 
grams at the end of the twelfth day. Meantime the nest has become 
enlarged and worn as the young increase in size. The young may 
leave the nest on the twelfth day, if disturbed, but normally not mitil 
the fourteenth day. Occasionally one will return to the nest for shel- 
ter, but they usually spend the nights perched in the dense flags. The 
parents care for them for at least 2 weeks, though after the first 10 
days they are able to secure some of their own food. The family group 
remains together through the summer and wanders about at some 
distance from the nesting place. 

It seems to be the consensus that two broods are raised in a season, 
but not a third. Dr. Welter ( 1935) found no evidence of a third brood, 
"The female begins her second nest about 2 weeks after the young of 
the first have left the nest. The majority of the nests, then, in the 
regions' studied would be started between July 15 and August 1, with 
the last week in July the most active period." Probably while the 
female is building the second nest the male is busy with the first brood 
and is not very active in building dummy nests. 

PluTMiges. — Dr. Welter ( 1936) has published another excellent paper 
on the development of the plumage in the young marsh wren and on 
subsequent molts, to which the reader is referred for details ; it is fully 
illustrated with drawings and photographic halftones. It is evident 
from the photographs that the young bird is practically fully feathered 
in the juvenal plumage before it leaves the nest, though the wings are 
not fully developed and the tail is still rudimentary. Dr. Dwight 
(1900) says that the natal down is white. In the juvenal plumage 
the young wren is much like the adult, but the crown is uniformly dull 
black, without the dividing brown area ; the white streaks on the back 
are very faint or lacking ; and the white superciliary stripe is indistinct. 
Dr. Dwight says that the first winter plumage is "acquired by a partial 
postjuvenal molt beginning about the middle of August which involves 
*^e body plumage, the wing coverts, probably the tertiaries, but not the 
rest of the wings nor the tail," young and old becoming practically in- 
distinguishable. Dr. Welter ( 1936) differs from Dr. Dwight, as to the 
extent of this molt, saying : "Juvenals collected during the fall of 1931 
which are now in the Cornell Collection show a molt of both rectrices 
and remiges." These two authorities also differ as to the prenuptial 
molt. Dr. Dwight says that the nuptial jplumage, in both adults and 


young birds, "is acquired by a complete prenuptial moult as indicated 
by the relatively unworn condition of the feathers when the birds arrive 
in May." He had no positive evidence of the molt, however. Dr. 
Welter could "find no evidence of a prenuptial molt in the series of 
specimens examined." The plumage of birds living in such dense 
vegetation must be subjected to rather severe abrasion, which might 
require a renewal of plumage oftener than once a year; and it may 
be that the prenuptial molt takes place during the late winter or very 
early spring, before the birds arrive on their breeding grounds. Dr. 
Witmer Stone (1896) agrees with Dr. Dwight's view, and I have seen 
some half a dozen specimens, taken in North and South Carolina, 
Florida, New Mexico, and Mexico, between February 23 and March 28, 
that show various stages of a complete prenuptial molt. Whether 
these are adults or young birls I do not know. 

Food. — The marsh wren feeds almost entirely on insects and their 
larvae, which it obtains on the marsh vegetation or on the floor of the 
marsh. Dr. Welter (1935) says that "much of the food is obtained 
near or from the surface of the water .* * * It is not unusual to 
observe the bird as he sights a juicy morsel fly into the air and capture 
it in the manner of a flycatcher. Insects as large as dragonflies are 
taken in this way. * * * Coleoptera and Diptera assume the high- 
est rank while various other orders are represented to a lesser degree. 
Carabidae and Dytiscidae occur more frequently among the beetles 
than any other forms while a large percentage of the Diptera belong to 
the Tipulidae." 

F. H. King (1883) reports from Wisconsin that "of 14 stomachs 
examined one ate 1 ant; one, a caterpillar; one, 3 beetles; three, 
3 moths; one a small grasshopper; one, 5 grasshopper eggs; one, 
1 dragon-fly; and one a small snail." Mosquito larvae are probably 
prominent in the food, as are larvae of other flying insects, diminutive 
moUusks, and aquatic insects. Forbush (1929), referring to Massa- 
chusetts, says that "in the salt marsh at high tide, it feeds on insects 
which crawl up on the grass and reeds, and at low tide it feeds largely 
on minute marine animals which it finds on or near the ground." 

Behavior. — The marsh wren is much more often heard than seen. 
As we drift along some quiet stream bordered by extensive cattail 
marshes, we hear all about us the gurgling, bubbling songs, or the 
chattering, scolding notes of the birds, but not one is in sight in the 
dense jungle of flags. Perhaps one may explode into the air, rising 
a few feet above the cattails with an outburst of enthusiastic song 
and drift down again into cover; or we may see one make a longer 
flight from one part of the marsh to another, buzzing along on slow, 
direct, steady flight with rapid wing beats. If we watch quietly, 
curiosity may prompt one to come peering at us with furtive glances 
from the shelter of his retreat, clinging with feet wide apart to two 


swaying stems like a little acrobat doing the "splits" ; his tail is held 
erect or pointed saucily forward and his head is lifted so high that 
head, bod}', and tail seem to form a feathered circle. He climbs 
nimbly up and down the reeds like a feathered gymnast, now gliding 
down to the base to pick some food from the water, now gleaning along 
the stems, and again swinging jauntily from a swaying top. He is 
the embodiment of active energy, always in motion, never still for 
a moment, and always chattering, scolding, or singing. He is a shy 
and elusive little mite ; if we make the slightest motion while watch- 
ing his antics, he vanishes instantly into the depths of his reedy jungle. 

Although most of the marsh wrens probably live in harmony with 
their neighbors in the marsh, some, perhaps many, have formed the 
bad habit of sucking the eggs of least bitterns and red- winged black- 
birds, as reported by several observers. For example, Dr. Chapman 
(1900) saw one of these wrens puncture all the eggs in two nests of 
least bitterns, and he attempted to photograph the bird in the act; 
the wren did not eat the contents of the eggs, though it may have 
returned to do so later ; it looked like a case of pure viciousness. And 
Dr. A. A. Allen (1914) says that "of 51 nests of the Redwing observed 
in a limited area, the eggs of 14 were destroyed" by marsh wrens, 
"and it is not at all uncommon to find one or more of the eggs of a 
nest with neat, circular holes in one side, such as would be made by 
the small, sharp beak of a wren." One that he watched "began to 
drink the contents much as a bird drinks water. After a few sips, it 
grasped the eggshell in its beak and flew off into the marsh, where it 
continued its feast." Dr. Welter (1935) evidently thinks that such 
behavior is exceptional for he says: "Many nests of other species 
of birds were under observation in the marsh and at no time were 
punctured eggs found or other indications of egg eating by the Marsh 
Wren observed." 

Voice. — ^Wilson (Wilson and Bonaparte, 1832) evidently did not 
admire the vocal powers of the marsh wren, saying that "it would be 
mere burlesque to call them by the name of song," for "you hear a low, 
crackling sound, something similar to that produced by air bubbles 
forcing their way through mud or boggy ground when trod upon"; 
this is a fair description of some of the notes, but he apparently was 
not referring to the full song, parts of which are quite musical. F. 
Schuyler Mathews (1921) says that the song "ripples and bubbles 
along in a fashion similar to that of the Winter or House Wren, but 
with a glassy tinkle in tone not characteristic of the songs of the other 
species and a tempo perceptibly more rapid than that of the House 
Wren's music." Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1905) writes: "The song 
begins with a scrape like the tuning of a violin followed by a trill 
with bubbles, gurgles, or rattles, depending no doubt on the skill 
or mood of the performer, at times liquid and musical, at other times 


rattling and harsh, but always vigorous. It ends abruptly but is 
generally followed by a short musical whistle or trill, as if the Wren 
were drawing in its breath after its efforts. I have heard one sing 
fifteen times in a minute." 

Dr. Welter's (1935) description is only slightly different; he dis- 
sects the song into three parts; first a grinding sound consisting of 
two to five notes with somewhat the quality of the aao notes of the 
white-breated nuthatch; then comes the more musical "warble-like" 
part, which reminds him "of a sewing machine of the older sort 
being run rapidly, but of course it is less metallic and more musical. 
It has much of the spontaneity of the House Wren's song but is other- 
wise quite distinct. This middle section begins at a low pitch, climbs 
upward, and then descends again." The third section he calls a trill, 
which is again "quite low but lacks the harshness of the beginning of 
the song. * * * 

"This entire song is given during May and most of June. Toward 
the end of the month, however, the last part is often omitted and often 
neither the beginning nor the end is heard." The song period seems 
to cease entirely in August, but the full song has been heard in Octo- 
ber, which may mean that a second song period occurs in fall. 

The marsh wren is a persistent singer, chiefly during the early 
morning and the evening hours, but during the height of the season 
it sings all day and often at night. Only the male sings. He sings 
while clinging to the reeds or while moving among them ; he indulges 
in his most delightful flight song while flying above the vegetation 
from one part of his territory to the other; or, rising in the air to a 
height of several feet, he flutters down to cover again in full song. 

This wren also has several alarm, call, or chattering notes. Ac- 
cording to Dr. Welter (1935) — 

the fct'fc fce/b or tschuk is given by the female. The male's note sometimes resem- 
bles this also but can usually be distinguished by its more grating nature and 
may be described as rrek. A series of notes is usually given togetlier so the 
rrek's do not sound very distinct as they roll into each other producing a chatter- 
ing. The kek notes, however, while also given together, maintain their identity. 
The female has a hissing sound that she gives if too closely pressed by the male. 
Preceding copulation the female has been heard to give a trill like that at the 
end of the male's song. 

The call notes of the young are quite similar to those of the adult. The nestling, 
when the female arrives with food, gives a beady peep or peet. At lirst these 
notes are scarcely audible but as the young become older and stronger the peet is 
clearly heard. As the young leave the nest the peet gradually develops into a 
qxieck. It is much more squeaky than the adult kek and also lacks the woody 
quality. The notes of the juvenal become more and more like those of the adult 
until they are indistinguishable. 

He says that the songs of the young males begin late in August and 
are entirely different from those of the adult. They reminded him 
at first of "the efforts of a not altogether successful Catbird," but they 


were "given in a more rasping manner. The grating notes of the be- 
ginning and the trill at the end are usually omitted by young birds." 

Mr. Trautman (1940) "timed an isolated singing male whose terri- 
tory was in a small stand of cattail and found that between 10 p. m. 
and 3 a. m. his average was 9 songs a minute." Another, in a simi- 
lar situation, sang at the rate of 11 songs a minute between 1 :40 a, m. 
and 2 :50 a. m. on a moonlight night. The singing slowed down during 
the middle of the day, between 10 a. m. and 2 p. m., to 4 songs a minute. 
"The amount of singing done by these birds declined sharply after 
mid-August, and by September 5, only an occasional, half-hearted 
song could be heard." 

Aretas A. Saunders writes to me : "The song of this bird is rather 
low-pitched and guttural, or sometimes squeaky. It consists of a se- 
ries of rapid notes, so rapid as to call the result a trill, but more fre- 
quently slow enough to count the number. In 26 of my records, with- 
out trills, the number of notes varies from 8 to 16 and the average 
number is 12. In a majority of the songs the notes are all equal in 
time, but some have portions where the notes are more rapid in part 
of the song. These portions are sometimes the beginning and some- 
times the end, or occasionally in the middle of the song. 

"The pitch of the notes varies from C" to C". One record is all on 
one pitch (B'"). A number of others are all on one pitch except the 
first or the final note, but others vary in numerous ways. The great- 
est variation in pitch in any one song is 2i/^ tones, and the average 
iy2 tones. I have occasionally seen a bird sing a flight song, when the 
song is somewhat more prolonged than I have described, but I have 
never succeeded in getting a record of this song. 

"In spite of the simplicity of this song the individuals vary it con- 
siderably. I have recorded five different songs from one individual. 
The quality sometimes changes from guttural to squeaky in the same 
song. The time of songs varies from ll^ to 2 seconds, though flight 
songs are probably longer." 

Field marks. — One hardly needs field marks to recognize a long- 
billed marsh wren, for it is wrenlike in appearance and behavior, and 
no other wren lives in such wet marshes. If perchance it is seen in 
the drier part of a marsh or meadow, it can be distinguished from the 
short-billed marsh wren by the blackish, unstreaked crown, the white 
line over the eye, and the black upper back streaked with white. 

Enemies. — Hawks and owls would have difficulty in capturing these 
active little birds as they dive into their dense retreats. Red- winged 
blackbirds are often seen chasing wrens for reasons stated above. 
Dr. Welter (1935) mentioned three small mammals, meadow mice, 
jumping mice, and Bonaparte's weasels, as probably guilty of destroy- 
ing some eggs and young. He says that Dr. A. A. Allen has seen 
bronzed grackles eating the young and has found bumble bees occupy- 


ing the nests. Fleas, lice, and hippoboscid flies sometimes damage the 

Fall.— Dr. Welter writes : "There is no marked exodus of birds from 
the marsh at a given time in the fall. At first the young of the year 
remain in family groups but, as the time of departure approaches, 
there is an apparent flocking together of young birds, usually near the 
the water's edge. At this time 25 or 30 birds may be observed together 
feeding near the surface of the water. * * * The first birds to 
leave are the adults and some of the young of the first brood." No 
adults were found after September 10; the birds that remain after that 
date are young birds, mostly those of the second brood, either in ju venal 
plumage or molting out of it. "As these birds complete the molt they, 
too, depart for their winter homes so that, by October 20, only a few 
scattered individuals remain. By the first of November these, also, 
have departed." 

Elon H. Eaton (1914) describes the departure thus: 

On one occasion while I was concealed in a blind watching for ducks to enter 
the marsh, I saw the last representative of this species leave the marshes at the 
foot of Canandaigua Lake. It was a cool night late in October when the moon was 
at the full. The little fellow uttered a feeble warble which attracted my attention 
and then rose from near my station, fluttering higher and higher into the air 
until lost at an elevation of about 300 feet, where I caught my last glimpse of him 
against the full moon. The following morning when I visited the marsh no more 
wrens were left. Evidently they migrate at night, and high in the air, so as to 
see their way and escape their enemies more successfully. 

Winter. — Most of the prairie marsh wrens migrate in fall and spend 
the winter in Mexico or along the Gulf coast to western Florida. But 
some few individuals remain in their summer haunts all winter in the 
shelter of the dense cattail marshes. There are winter records for 
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Ohio. It may be that they 
are more common in winter than we realize, for they are silent and 
remain well hidden in the marshes, where they are hard to find. 



Plate 47 


The western marsh wren breeds in the Great Basin regions of the 
western United States, from central British Columbia, Washington 
and Oregon, and northeastern California eastward to the Rocky Moun- 
tains in central Colorado and southward into New Mexico. Its winter 
range extends into Mexico. 

Ridgway (1904) describes it as "very similar in coloration of upper 
parts to T. p. iliacus, but the brown averaging paler and decidedly less 
ruf escent ; upper tail-coverts usually more or less distinctly barred with 


dusky, and middle rectrices more distinctly barred ; color of flanks, etc., 
conspicuously different, being pale wood brown, pale isabclla color, or 
pale broccoli brown instead of bright buffy cinnamon or tawny-bufF, the 
under tail-coverts usually more or less distinctly barred ; wing and tail 
averaging decidedly longer (especially the tail), cuhnen averaging 
slightly shorter." 

The haunts of the western marsh wren are evidently similar to those 
of the other races that breed in the fresh-water marshes and sloughs in 
the interior. 

Nesting. — Dawson and Bowles (1909) give a very good description 
of the nest of this wren as follows : 

The Marsh Wren's nest is a compact ball of vegetable materials, lashed midway 
of cat-tails or bulrushes, living or dead, and having a neat entrance hole in one 
side. A considerable variety of materials is used in construction, but in any given 
nest only one textile substance will preponderate. Dead cat-tail leaves may be 
employed, in which case the numerous loopholes will be filled with matted down 
from, the same plant. Fine dry grasses may be utilized, and these so closely woven 
as practically to exclude the rain. On Moses Lake, where rankly growing 
bulrushes predominate in the nesting areas, spirogyra is the material most largely 
used. This, the familiar, scum-like plant which masses tinder water in quiet 
places, is plucked out by the venturesome birds in great wet hanks and plastered 
about the nest until the required thickness is attained. AVhile wet, the substance 
matches its surroundings admirably, but as it dries out it shrinks considerably and 
fades to a sickly light green, or greenish gray, which advertises itself among the 
obstinately green bulrushes. Where this fashion prevails, one finds it possible to 
pick out immediately the oldest member of the group, and it is more than likely to 
prove the occupied nest. 

The nest-linings are of the softest cat-tail down, feathers of wild fowl, or dried 
spirogyra teased to a point of enduring fluffiness. It appears, also, that the Wrens 
(»ften cover their eggs upon leaving the nest. Thus, in one we found on the 17th 
of May, which contained seven eggs, the eggs were completely buried under a loose 
blanket of soft vegetable fibers. The nest was by no means deserted, for the eggs 
were warm and the mother bird very solicitous, insomuch that she repeatedly 
ventured within a foot of my hand while I was engaged with the nest. 

A nest in the Thayer collection, taken in Lassen County, Calif., on 
May 10, 1910, was built in tules 2i/2 feet above the water. It is a 
large well-made nest constructed mainly of the fruiting or dry flower 
clusters of some marsh plant, firmly reinforced and compactly inter- 
woven with narrow strips of tules or other marsh plants, forming a 
very solid and durable structure ; it measures about 7 inches in height 
by about 4 inches in diameter. 

Eggs. — The eggs of the western marsh wren are indistinguishable 
from those of the other races of the species. The measurements of 40 
eggs average 16.1 by 12.6 millimeters; the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 17.3 by 13.2, 16.6 by 13.4, and 14.5 by 11.0 millimeters. 

Winter. — Harry S. Swarth (1917) makes the following interesting 
observation on the winter distribution of this wren in California : 


The known breeding range of the western marsh wren in California is very 
limited, being merely the restricted northeastern corner of the State, a region 
which shows strongly Great Basin faunal affinities. In winter, however, plesius 
is perhaps the most abundant of any form of the species, occurring in numbers 
over a large part of the State. It is an especially numerous winter visitant in the 
San Diegan district of southern California. In this region summer is the dry 
season, a period of such excessive aridity that birds with the needs and pro- 
clivities of tlie marsh wrens are closely limited as to habitat, being restricted to 
extremely circumscribed areas about the few suitable permanent streams and 
sloughs. In winter this is all changed. Abundant rains often transform what 
were dry fields and pastures into ponds and marshes, while every roadside ditch is 
running full, and bordered with dense vegetation. In consequence, the visiting 
marsh wrens are enaliled to scatter widely over the country. 

He cites a number of records from various points along the coasts of 
California and Oregon, which indicate that "individuals of this form 
may occasionally be found in winter at any point along the coast." 
But he shows clearly that the center of abundance in winter is in 
southern California, "both on the deserts and in the San Diegan 




Professor Baird (1864) was the first to name and describe a western 
race of this species, based on one specimen from Washington and three 
from California, and his name still applies to the long-billed marsh 
wrens of the Pacific coast district from British Columbia to southern 
California. His brief description gives as its characters: "Bill 
shorter than tarsus. Tail coverts distinctly banded all across. Bands 
on tail quite distinct ; appreciable on the central feathers." 

Kidgway (1904) gives a fuller description, based on 17 specimens, 
as follows : "Most like T. p. palusfris, but tail-coverts usually barred 
(especially the upper) , middle rectrices more distinctly barred, flanks, 
etc., deeper brown, bill smaller, and tail decidedly longer; agreeing 
with T. p. plesius in barred tail-coverts, more distinctly barred tail, 
and relatively longer tail, but decidedly smaller and with coloration 
decidedly darker." 

The name tule wren must not be understood to implj'^ that this wren 
is wholly or even mainly, confined to the tules {Scirpus lacustris 
OGcidentalis) ; although it breeds abundantly in this type of vegetation 
in the extensive marshes or where it grows around the shores of lakes, 
it also breeds commonly in the cattail marshes along the intersecting 
channels or the banks of quiet streams, and in the salicornia of coastal 
marshes where the supply of cattails is inadequate. 

Dr. Gordon D. Alcorn writes to me that the tule wren is abundant 
in suitable localities in western Washington but says that "the wren 

75S06G— 4S- 18 


population diminishes sharply within a few miles of the Pacific 
Ocean ; this might be due to the scarcity of suitable swamps for nest- 
ing purposes. The swamps within this region are mostly of low- 
growing sedges ( Carex) , barely reaching 2 feet in height. In most 
of the swamps the cattails {Tyjyha), of which the wrens are so fond, 
are scarce or entirely lacking. I regularly visit two wren areas in 
Grays Harbor County. The first is located on the shores of the 
harbor and comprises an area of approximately 5 acres. Few cat- 
tails are present, the swamp possessing mostly sedges with a few 
scattered willows. The area almost touches salt water, as the limits 
of the gi'ounds are bounded on the south and west by the high- 
water line. I visit also a rather extensive swamp paralleling the 
ocean beach in the vicinity of Oyhut, Wash. This swamp covers a 
distance of about 4 miles and is composed of low sedges with a 
few spiraea bushes." 

Spring. — Samuel F. Kathbun tells me that, near Seattle, this little 
wren is more or less resident in the region, although found more 
commonly from early spring until late in the fall. "There appears 
to be a movement of the species during late March and early April ; 
for at this period birds will be heard and seen in and about small 
marshes or similar localities, in which they are absent during the 
nesting season." 

Nesting. — Dr. Alcorn says in his notes that, in the localities men- 
tioned above, the nests are usually placed within a foot or two of 
the water ; the birds use sedge leaves for building and line the nests 
with willow cotton ; the nests are always fragile structures ; and there 
are not so many decoy nests as are found farther inland. 

In the dense cattail swamps farther back from the coast, the nests 
are more substantial and more typical of the species. In the Thayer 
collection in Cambridge there are two distinct types of well-built 
nests, both collected by J. H. Bowles in Pierce County, Wash. One, 
built 4 feet above the water in dense cattails, where the water was 
3 feet deep, is a compact, oval ball, made largely of cattail down 
interwoven with and firmly bound together with strips of the flags ; 
it would have furnished a warm, dry shelter for the young. The 
other, "woven among coarse marsh grass" in a fresh-water marsh, is 
a firmly woven and well-made ball of interlaced strips of marsh 
grasses and reeds, a common type for the species. 

Walter E. Bryant (1887) published the following note on a nest 
found by A. M. Ingersoll in an unusual situation: "A conspicuous 
nest, containing eggs, was woven among the almost leafless branches 
of a young willow, five feet above a fresh-water marsh." 

The tule wren seems to be a prolific builder of decoy or male nests. 
Irene G. Wheelock (1904) says that she has examined "30 in 1 
day and found but 1 occupied, and that was the oldest, most tumble- 


down of the lot." And Dawson and Bowles (1909) say that "in 
a day Mr. Bowles found 53 nests, only 3 of which held eggs or 
young. At least 2 broods are raised in a season." His brother, 
Charles W. Bowles (1898), throws some light on the use that may 
be made of these dummy nests : "In the spring of 1896 I found an 
empty marsh wren's nest, and on passing by later in the day, saw 
three nearly fledged young in it. There were also other nests near 
by, with one or more young in each. It seems to me probable that 
these duplicate nests are built, if the birds have a large family, for 
the young to roost in, at least at night, when they are too large to 
be all contained in one nest, but not yet able to take care of 

Eggs. — The eggs of the tule wren are apparently no different from 
those of other long-billed marsh wrens. The measurements of 40 eggs 
average 16.3 by 12.8 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 17.6 by 13.0, 16.8 by 13.5, 15.5 by 12.8, and 16.0 by 12.0 milli- 
meters. These eggs are all in the United States National Museum. 

Toimg. — Mrs. Wheelock (1904) writes: 

Twelve days are required for incubation, and even during this sliort period 
the mother is not a close sitter. I have known her to leave the nest for 2 hours 
in the middle of the day, trusting to the intense heat of the sun to perform her 
task for her; and but for the thick, moist walls of the cradle, this same sun 
would have been fatal to the bird life within the shells. 

As soon as the eggs hatched in the nest I was watching, I cut a slit in the top 
of it to look at the young. They were naked, light pink in color, with tiny heads, 
mere knobs for eyes and buds for wings ; each nestling measured 1 inch in length. 
After this examination I tied up the slit, and before I was a yard away the 
mother entered the nest again. Four days later the eyes of the young wrens had 
begun to open, and looked like tiny slits, while a thin huffy down covered the 
top of their heads and was scattered sparsely over their bodies. As in the young 
of the long-billed marsh wrens, the ear openings were conspicuously large. Bill 
and legs had changed from pink to light burnt-orange in color. They were fed 
by regurgitation for the first 4 days and doubled in weight every 24 hours. When 
a week old they were commencing to feather, and in 3 days more were nearly 
ready to leave the nest. They were now fed on larvae of water insects, slugs, 
and dragonflies, besides other insects, and meals were served four times an hour 
during most of the day. 

These young wrens left the nest, when examined, at an age of 12 
days ; they were able to glean some of their food but were fed by their 
parents for 2 weeks longer. 

Food. — Only 53 stomachs of the California races of this species were 
examined by Professor Beal (1907) , in which animal matter amounted 
to 98 percent, and vegetable matter, consisting of a few seeds of sedges 
and one of amaranth, amounted to 2 percent. "Beetles, wasps, ants, 
bugs, caterpillars, and a few miscellaneous insects, with some spiders 
and snails, make up the bill of fare." Bugs — assassin bugs, damsel 
bugs, stink bugs, leafhoppers, and treehoppers — constituted the largest 


item, 29 percent. Scales were found in one stomach. Caterpillars and 
chrysalids amounted to 17 percent, beetles (mainly harmful species) 16 
percent, ants and wasps 8 percent, flies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and 
a few other insects 11 percent. Spiders were eaten regularly and made 
up over 5 percent of the food. One stomach contained 11 small snails. 
Not much more need be said about the habits of tule wren after all 
that has been written about the prairie marsh wren, for their habits 
are practically identical. Although some suspicion exists, there is no 
positive evidence that snakes destroy the eggs or young of these wrens, 
so far as I know. Dr. Gordon D. Alcorn (1931), however, published 
the following observation, which is at least suggestive ; a pair of wrens 
were much disturbed by the presence of a garter snake near their nests. 

The snake was slowly crawling some 2 to 5 feet above the water over the dead 
cattail leaves and stems in which were located a number of occupied and unoccu- 
pied wren nests. The birds remained perfectly silent, but with outspread wings 
and ruffled feathers darted again and again at the head of the reptile. The snake 
paid no attention to the birds but continued to "explore", finally approaching a 
wren nest and entering it. About two-thirds of the snake's body remained outside 
the nest while it stayed at the nest for about 30 seconds. The snake was allowed 
to enter several nests in a similar manner. It was then killed and the stomach 
examined and found to be empty but for a well-digested slug. Also each nest 
entered was examined and each found to be empty (undoubtedly "decoys," as 
each was unlined and in a conspicuous position.) * * * The snake was with- 
out doubt looking for food, either eggs or young birds, in these nests, and was 
not able to discriminate between occupied and unoccupied nests. 

Dawson (1923) writes: "In autumn the Tule Wrens leave the 
sheltered precincts of the ponds, and go roaming about through dry 
weed patches and adjacent chaparral. Here they are as noisy and as 
elusive as ever, and are in nowise awed by their less usual sur- 
roundings. There is, doubtless, some invasion from the north and 
consequent crowding in winter." 

Mrs. Amelia S. Allen tells me that "on September 24, 1941, they 
were abundant in a damp cow pasture inland in sedge grass." 




In naming this race Mr. Swarth (1917) says of its characters: 
"In coloration aestuarinus is darker than the average of fdludicola^ 
especially as compared with southern Californian examples of the 
latter. Occasional specimens of paludicola^ however, from all parts 
of its range, are quite as dark colored. In dimensions, T. p. aestuarius 
differs from T. p. fdbudicola in its greater size throughout, being of 
about the same dimensions as T. p. plesius. From plesius it differs in 
its much darker coloration." This subspecies seems to be an inter- 
mediate between the two adjacent races, resembling one in color and 


the other in size. It also occupies a rather limited breeding range 
between the other two, mainly in Solano and Sonoma Counties, Calif. 
The 1931 Check-list gives its range as "west-central California, breed- 
ing at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, in 
Napa and Solano Counties, and thence south to Tulare County. In 
winter spreads beyond its breeding range to Oregon and southern 
California." Living as it does in a smilar type of country, we should 
hardly expect to find anything in its habits that is different from 
those of the neighboring races. 

The eggs of the Suisun marsh wren do not differ materially from 
those of the species elsewhere. The measurements of 27 eggs average 

16.0 by 12.7 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 

17.1 by 13.2, 16.6 by 13.4, 14.4 by 12.4, and 15.0 by 12.1 millimeters. 



Plates 48-51 


This tiny wren is more of a meadow wren than a marsh wren, for 
it shuns the wettest marshes where the long-billed marsh wren loves 
to dwell among the tall, dense growths of cattails or bulrushes and 
where the water is a foot or more deep. It prefers the drier marshes 
or wet meadows, where there is little water or where the ground is 
merely damp. These are what we call the sedge meadows, where the 
principal growth consists of various species of Carex and tall grasses, 
often growing in thick tufts, and various other plants that need a 
little moisture. Such marshes are often intersected by streams or 
ditches or are bordered by lower and wetter marshes where cattails 
and bulrushes flourish in the deeper water; the short-billed marsh 
wrens have often been seen among the cattails and have even been 
known to build their nests low down in these flags, but they much 
prefer to breed in the sedge and grass association. A large marsh of 
the latter type, near my home, has been a favorite breeding ground 
for these wrens for many years ; there are some small willows, alders, 
and gray birches along the banks of the intersecting ditches ; and small 
bushes scattered through the marsh serve as singing stations for the 
wrens ; many flowering plants add color to the scene all through sum- 
mer, and it is a glorious sight early in fall when the bur-marigold 
carpets the whole meadow with a blaze of yellow. A pair of marsh 
hawks may be seen here in spring performing their courtships; we 
have often seen the male in his spectacular flight and have flushed the 
female from her nest. This and other similar swamps in eastern 
Massachusetts are the favorite haunts of swamp sparrows, song spar- 
rows, Henslow's sparrows, and northern yellowthroats. 


L. McI, Terrill (1922), writing of the Montreal district, says: "In 
this locality the Short-billed Marsh Wren has a decided preference 
for sphagnum bogs — not so much the bog proper as the firmer ground 
about the bog margins, where there is a certain amount of free surface 
water and a fairly heavy growth of grasses and sedges. Here the silky 
tassels of the cotton-grass waving above the lesser growth, are a famil- 
iar sight and one is more apt to find swamp laurel in greater abundance 
than bushes of Labrador Tea, which appears to thrive better in the 
yielding sphagnum. Clumps of alders are also commonly found with 
an occasional tamarack sapling and sometimes beds of cattails, while 
often there is a thicket of poplars and birches in the background." 

Dr. Lawrence H. Walkinshaw (1935) says that in Michigan "the 
favorite habitat of the Short-billed Marsh Wren is not among the 
large groups of cattails with several feet of standing water, but rather 
in the higher part of the marshes, in the intermediate portion between 
the bordering meadow and the deepest part of the swamp itself. There 
is generally very little and often no water at all where they nest." He 
says that "these marshes are .the favorite habitat for the sandhill crane 

* * *, Yellow Rail * * *, Greater Prairie Chicken * * *, 
Savannah Sparrow * * *^ Henslow's Sparrow * * *^ Leconte's 
Sparrow * * *, Swamp Sparrow * * *^ j^j^(j Song Sparrow 

* * *." Among the plants growing in the marsh, he lists royal, 
sensitive, and marsh ferns, cattails, wood bulrush, showy ladyslipper, 
calopogon, some of the smaller willows, fringed and closed gentians, 
climbing wild cucumber, tall ironweed, joepyeweed, blue vervain, Can- 
ada goldenrod, beggarticks, nodding bur-marigold. New England 
aster. Yellow dock, and turtlehead. "In the early part of the summer 
grasses and sedges predominate, and later the appearance of the 
marsh takes on the gay colors, the yellows and blues, of the goldenrods, 
asters, and vervains." 

Wendell Taber tells me that in a marsh in New Hampshire, at an 
elevation of 1,020 feet, he has found this wren in June for four sea- 
sons in succession; he usually hears olive-sided and alder flycatchers 
and once a winter wren singing while he was listening to the marsh 

The short-billed marsh wren is widely distributed over the cen- 
tral and eastern parts of southern Canada and a large part of the 
northern half of the United States. But it does not seem to be evenly 
distributed and seems to be rare or unknown in many portions of this 
wide range. It is common only where it can find suitable marshes; 
some of these marshes may contain only one or two pairs, while 
others may support populous colonies. Perhaps it is commoner in 
many places than is generally supposed, because of its small size and 
shy, retiring habits. Furthermore, the marshes where it lives are 
not as carefully explored by bird lovers as some other places. 


Nesting. — This wren not only lives in a different type of habitat 
from that of the long-billed species, but its nesting habits are quite 

It has been said by some authors to build a nest like that of the long- 
billed marsh wren and in similar situations ; I have seen such supposed 
nests of this species in collections. These nests all contained white 
eggs and were naturally taken to be short-billed marsh wrens' nests. 
But, as the long-billed marsh wren sometimes lays white eggs, per- 
haps oftener than we realize, I suspect that some of, if not all, these 
nests may have belonged to the latter species. 

It has been my experience, and I find that most authors agree with 
me, that the short-billed marsh wren builds its nest almost, if not quite, 
always in the types of habitat described above and not in the dense, 
deep-water cattail swamps ; the nest is placed in sedges or grass, or other 
low herbage, close to the ground, mud, or very shallow water, not more 
than a foot or two above it at the most, and never at the heights favored 
by the long-billed species in cattails and bulrushes ; the nest is globular 
in shape and not oval, ovate, or coconut-shaped ; it is well hidden deep 
down in the thick sedges or grasses, very different from the conspicuous 
domiciles of the other species ; it is a ball of dry and green grasses, with 
a well-concealed opening on the side; generally the growing green 
grasses are woven into the ball, making it inconspicuous, and often the 
growing grasses are arched over it, helping still further to conceal it. 
It is a very difficult nest to find, most easily overlooked, and the bird 
usually sneaks away from it without betraying its location. 

Three of the nests described in my notes illustrate the slight varia- 
tions I have noted in Massachusetts nests, all of which were found in 
fresh- water marshes near Boston. One, in a marsh where the water 
was nearly knee deep, was in plain sight on the side of a tussock of 
tall grass on the edge of an open place, about 2 feet above the water ; 
it was, however, almost invisible and could have been easily overlooked, 
as it was made of green grass woven into a neat ball and so placed as to 
blend perfectly into the surrounding grasses. Another was beauti- 
fully hidden on the side of a large tuft of tall grass, the opening looking 
out to the northward across a little shallow open water between the 
tufts ; the bottom of the nest was 12 inches above the water, and the 
tallest grass tops were about 12 inches above the top of the nest ; the 
concealment of the nest was made more effective by wrapping around 
it many blades of green growing grass, giving it the appearance of 
being made of green grass. The third, in a meadow that was not very 
wet, was placed near the base of a tuft of tall grass only a few inches 
from the damp ground ; it was made entirely of coarse dry grasses and 
was lined with fine grass, feathers, and fur. One found in the same 
marsh by my companion, Owen Durfee, was in shorter green grass, 


not tufted, near a ditch ; the bottom of this nest was only 4 inches above 
the mud. 

A nest found by Mr. Terrill (1922) in the locality near Montreal, 
described above, was "almost resting on the [sphagnum] moss at the 
base of a low kalmia bush. It was very loosely fastened to the bush 
and was fairly well hidden by surrounding grasses. In respect of 
being globular and having a side entrance it resembled the nest of the 
Long-billed Marsh Wren. Otherwise the loose construction and 
composition of very old grasses and sedges recalled nests of the shrew. 
Also it was resting practically on the ground, or moss. It contained 
two newly hatched young and three addled eggs, two of which were 
cracked. As far as I could discover the lining consisted of down from 
poplar (?) catkins, a piece of fur-covered hare skin, and a few chicka- 
dee feathers." 

A nest studied by Henry Mousley (1934) near St. Hubert, Quebec, 
in the same general region, is thus described: "The nest, an almost 
globular structure with a small entrance hole on one side, was composed 
outwardly of narrow strips of dry cattail leaves whilst the inside lining 
consisted of a thick layer of cattail down and five white feathers of a 
domestic fowl. It was only 2 inches above the ground, at the foot of a 
clump of the common or soft rush {Jv/ncus ejfusus) , this being the more 
or less general situation. Its height was 6 inches, width 5 inches, whilst 
the inside diameter was 3 inches." The surrounding herbage consisted 
principally of goldenrods, intermixed with rushes and sedges, as well 
as clusters of asters, spiked purple loosestrife, meadowsweet, beggar- 
ticks, and Roman wormwood. 

The nests observed in Michigan by Dr. Walkinshaw (1935) were 
apparently similar in location and construction to the Massachusetts 
nests described above, "all in dense thick masses of small-leafed sedge, 
or in a combination of sedges and finer grasses." The birds usually 
build several nests, "and the used nest is often a little closer to the 
ground than the false ones. * * * Often the false nests of one 
pair will be located almost to the territory of another pair, in large 
meadows where they seem to congregate in colonies. In the marsh 
studied in Calhoun County, during 1934, in an area of about 10 acres, 
there were as many as 35 or 40 males singing at the same time, while in 
other places of smaller size only one pair could be found." 

I have no firsthand knowledge of the number of false, or dummy, 
nests usually built by this wren, but many observers have referred to 
the universal habit. These nests are presumably built by the male, 
but this does not seem to have been definitely proved ; they are usually 
unlined and not so well built as the brood nest. Forbush (1929) says : 
"It is a great nest builder. Just how many unlined nests one ambitious 
male will build nobody seems to know, but where there is a large colony 


of these wrens, the nests are 'legion,' and where few birds are breeding 
the occupied nests are difficult to find." 

Eggs. — The commonest mmiber of eggs in the nest of the short- 
billed marsh wren seems to be 7, but as few as 4 and as many as 8 have 
been recorded. The eggs are ovate or pointed-ovate, the shells are 
thin and very fragile, and the color is pure white and unmarked. The 
measurements of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum aver- 
age 16.0 by 12.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes meas- 
ure 17.3 by 12.7, 17.0 by 12.7, 14.4 by 11.3, and 15.2 by 11.2 millimeters. 

Yoimg. — The period of incubation has been stated as from 12 to 14 
days, and is apparently performed by the female alone. Dr. 
Walkinshaw (1935) writes: 

The young of the Marsh Wren remain in the nest from 12 to 14 days. They are 
fed by the female almost entirely but the male occasionally will stop to feed 
them. Excreta are carried away by the mother bird on her feeding trips to the 

When the weather was very warm, the young peered out througli the opening, 
breathing very fast with mouths wide open. They showed little fear of man 
until they were about 12 to 14 days old, then when one approached the nest they 
watched very dubiously. 

After they leave the nest the young move about among the sedge and bushes of 
the marsh like little mice, except that they occasionally move up to secure food 
from their parents which feed them until they are able to take cai'e of them- 
selves, even then they move about in small groups until migration time. 

At the nest watched by Mr. Mousley (1934), "altogether, the young 
were fed 28 times in the 6 hours, or at the rate of once in every 13 min- 
utes, and this by the. female alone, her partner contenting himself by 
always singing from his favourite station on the thorn bush, whenever 
she approached the nest." 

Several observers have stated that two broods are raised in a sea- 
son. Fresh eggs have been found at such early and late dates that 
this seems to be indicated. 

Plumages. — I have not seen the natal down. Dr. Walkinshaw 
(1935) describes some very young birds as follows : 

The young have legs and bill pink, the latter a little darker near the tip of 
the maxilla. The young when they leave the nest are from 55 to 70 mm. in 
length. The top of the head on one specimen of 58 mm. in length, had no 
stripes, being dark brown changing to a lighter brown on the forehead. The 
back, rump and upper tail coverts were uniform hair brown, the wings a deeper 
brown, and the breast very similar but a little lighter, than that of the adult. 
The tail was 10 mm. in length, hair brown with one black band about two mm. 
in width at the tip. A bird 66 mm. in length had the coloration much the same, 
but there were indications of black on the wings and nape. In a bird 69 mm. 
long the head was colored the same, but the wings were barred with blackish and 
tipped with brown, and the back was barred with black. The breast on the 
sides was much more bnffy and had a distinct band near the throat. The bills 
were decurved in these young birds. 


Dr. Dwight's (1900) description of what is probably an older bird 
differs but slightly : "Above, dull black on the pileum and back, the 
nape, sepia, the rump and upper tail coverts russet ; streaked anteriorly 
with white, barred on the rump and wings with black, white and cin- 
namon, palest on the primaries; the tail drab, mottled rather than 
barred with black. Below, including sides of the head, ochraceous 
buff palest on the chin and throat and washed strongly on the sides, 
flanks and crissum with cinnamon, the feathers whitish centrally and 

He says that the first winter plumage is "acquired by a partial post- 
juvenal molt beginning about the middle of August which involves 
the body plumage and wing coverts, probably the tertiaries, but not 
the rest of the wings nor the tail." This plumage he describes as 
"similar to the previous plumage, the forehead largely sepia-brown 
and conspicuous white stripes on the crown. Below, the ochraceous 
wash is deeper including a pectoral band and a few black and white 
bars occur on the flanks. The tertiaries are distinctly black, edged 
and barred with white, russet bordered." 

This plumage is practically indistinguishable from the winter plum- 
age of the adult. The prenuptial molt of both adults and young is 
nearly or quite complete. Dr. Dwight says that this is proved by 
birds taken in Texas on April 15. "Limited material indicates that 
only a few of the outer primaries are renewed in some cases." Dr. 
Stone (1896) says: "There is a complete spring molt of the body 
feathers in this bird as shown in a series taken at Tarpon Springs, 
Fla., April 15th." Dr. Sutton (1940) took one of these wrens in 
southern San Luis Potosi, Mexico, on April 18, that was "in the midst 
of a molt involving head- and body-plumage." And he saw another, 
taken March 22, in Tamaulipas, Mexico, in which the rectrices were 
molting. Both year-old birds and adults have a complete postnuptial 
molt mainly in August. The fresh autumn plumage is more richly 
colored than the spring plumage and sometimes shows a few dusky 
bars on the flanks. The sexes are alike in all plumages. 

Food. — No very extensive study of the food of the short-billed marsh 
wren seems to have been made. Dr. Walkinshaw (1935) says that the 
food consists of insects. "They have been observed to feed the young, 
with moths, spiders, mosquitoes, flies, grasshoppers, and bugs." Ar- 
thur H. Howell (1932) says: "Examination of 34 stomachs of this 
Wren from Florida showed its food to consist wholly of insects and 
spiders. The insects taken included ants, bugs, weevils, ladybird 
beetles, moths, caterpillars, locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers." 

Behavior. — This tiny wren, one of the smallest of the family, is also 
one of the shiest, most retiring, and elusive. As we pass some likely 
meadow we may recognize its characteristic, chattering little song and 
perhaps see the male perched on some small bush in or near a marsh, or 


on the swaying top of a tall sedge or reed, singing to his hidden mate. 
If we approach for a closer look he dives into the nearest and thickest 
cover, and we may not see him again. His cousin, the longbill, might 
be prompted by curiosity to come sneaking through the cover of the 
cattails to have a sly look at us ; but not so the little shortbill ; his one 
glimpse was enough and he was interested only in keeping out of sight, 
and so off he goes, creeping mouselike through the dense grass. His 
mate is even more shy about her nest; only once have I succeeded in 
surprising her at home ; then she dove like a flash into the grass and 
disappeared, but I heard her scolding notes as she moved about in the 
surrounding cover. Mr. Mousley (1934) succeeded in photogTaphing 
the female at the nest, to which she returned within 20 minutes after he 
had beaten down the grasses in front of the nest and placed his camera 
only about 2 feet away. He writes : "As showing her apparent disre- 
gard of the camera she on one occasion perched on a leg of the tripod. 
* * * At times it was only the song of the male that gave me any 
indication that his partner was near the nest, whilst at others I was 
more fortunate in observing her approach, as she flew just above the top 
of the herbage suddenly flopping down into it at some distance from 
the nest, when all trace of her would be lost until the actions of the 
young made me aware that she had arrived in the near vicinity of the 
nest, but where she would actually appear was another matter." 

If the male is flushed in the open marsh, which is not a difficult 
matter, he goes flying off close to the tops of the sedges with a straight, 
even, slow flight, looking like a tiny ball of feathers propelled with 
rapid beats of his little wings, and then suddenly drops down into the 

Voice. — Over 40 years ago I wrote in my notes that the song of the 
short-billed marsh wren is a chattering trill, resembling the sound made 
by striking two sticks very rapidly together ; it suggests the song of the 
longbill but is fainter and lacks the musical, bubbling notes of the 
latter's song. Some others have suggested that the song sounds like 
striking small pebbles together or rattling a bag of marbles, not bad 

The song has been expressed in syllables, more or less differently by 
various observers. Ora W. Knight (1908) writes the full-length 
characteristic song as "chip — chip — chip — chip, chip-chip-chip-chir- 
r-r-r-r-r" ; it reminded him of the song of the pallid wren tit ; though 
"different in timbre, * * * harsh and lacking the bell like reso- 
nance of the Wren Tit's song it was uttered with the same accentuation 
and syllaballization." Ernest T. Seton (1890) writes the same song as 

^^chap chap — chap-chap, chap, chap, chap p-p-p-r-r-r^ In both of 

these cases the first four syllables are given deliberately, with pauses 
between them and on a lower key than the rest of the song, which runs 
off in a rapid, diminuendo trill. 


Ralph Hoffmann (1904) says: "While the song of the Long-billed 
Marsh Wren resembles the House Wren's in its volubility, that of the 
Short-billed Marsh Wren suggests rather some species of sparrow. It 
may be represented by the syllables tsip tsip tsip tsipper tsipper tsipper^ 
the first two or three notes staccato, the rest running rapidly down the 
scale. The call note is like the opening note of the song." 

The song reminded Dr. Sutton (1928) "of the insect-like perform- 
ance of the Dickcissel, particularly the latter portion of the song. 
This song might be written 'Dick, putt, jik, plick, chick-chick-chick.' " 
And Bagg and Eliot (1937) write it ^Hsick, zwick, diddle-diddle- 

As to the length of the song period. Dr. Walkinshaw (1935) writes : 

With us the Short-bill sings from the time of arrival in the spring until the 
departure for the south in the fall. During the months of April, May, June, and 
July it sings almost continuously during the hours of daylight. During August, 
when many of our birds are extremely quiet, this species is still a persistent 
singer and even in September and October I have heard its repeated song at 
certain times of day. 

Of the pair which nested directly back of our house in 1933, the male was 
heard to sing not only during the day but at nearly all hours of night. During 
the months of May, June, July, and August I heard this male sing at various 
times; from 11:30 P. M. until 2:00 a. m., and until daylight. Then he would 
sing all day long until 9 :30 p. m. but from 9 :30 to 11 :30 p. m. I never heard 
him sing. Sometimes between the hours of 2 and 5 a. m. he would sing as 
persistently as during the hours of daylight. 

He usually sang the song once, then paused a few seconds before repeating. 
During the height of the nesting season he would sing once every five seconds 
for a period of several minutes. Many times when he was timed, he sang twelve 
times a minute, while at others he would only sing six or eight times. After 
August 10 this bird did not sing nearly as often but he continued to sing early 
in the morning and late in the evening until he left on October 5. This Wren 
had favorite perches from which he would sing, two on willows, another on a 
wire fence which was about 1000 yards from the nest. The two willows, how- 
ever, were only about 25 feet distant. 

He says there is some variation in the song and writes the full, long 
song as "chap-chap-churr-churr-chur-r-r-chap-chur-chur-r." The 
usual song, quickly repeated, is merely the first part of the above. 
"After the season had progressed into the months of August and 
September this became much less forceful and the opening became, 
'Sit-sit-sit-churr-chur-r-r,' or 'Sit-sit-sit-sit-t-t.' " He gives the 
scolding notes as "Churr-churr" and "Chap-churr." 

Aretas A. Saunders writes to me: "The song of this bird is un- 
mistakable when known because of its peculiar quality, not like that 
of any other bird I know. It is not musical or guttural, but the pitch 
of the notes can be determined in spite of this. It begins with two to 
five short notes, sounding like 'tip', and ends with a trill or a series 
of rapid notes all on one pitch, and one to three tones lower than the 
first notes. When the first notes are two or three in number they are 


likely to be all on the same pitch, and in even time, like the beginning 
of a song sparrow's song. Then the song is a simple 'tip-tip-tip- 
trrrrrr'. But when there are four or five notes there is likely to be a 
change in pitch, or a pause after the first note, giving a result like 

'tip tip - tap - trrrrrr'. The trill usually ends the song, but 

there is sometimes a still lower terminal note, making it end 'trrrrr- 
tup'. The pitch of my records varies just an octave, from C " ' to 
C " ", but no one song I have recorded covers a whole octave. The 
lengths of songs in my records vary from 1% to 2% seconds." 

Francis H. Allen watched one at close range, as he sang, and says 
(MS.) : "When he uttered the first notes of his song he raised his tail, 
sometimes perpendicular to his back or even pointing forward, some- 
times not so far, and sometimes hardly at all. With the last notes 
of the song, the tail would go back to a position about horizontal with 
the body. Often, though not always, it was jerked in time to the 
notes, that is a couple of emphatic jerks at its highest point, simul- 
taneous with the two emphatic opening notes of the song, and then a 
quavering fall with the closing trill." 

FaU. — Mr. Saunders's observations in Connecticut indicate that 
the fall migration begins early. He found birds singing in August 
in a place where he "was very sure no such bird had been the previous 
May and June, a tall grass area back of the salt marshes near Fairfield 
Beach. On July 26, 1941, 1 found a bird singing in a similar locality 
back of the beach, a place I passed or visited frequently throughout 
the year. In the next few days I found several birds in this general 
vicinity, and by August 9 the birds were abundant all through the grass 
areas back of the beach, and I heard the song in many different places. 
The birds continued abundant all through August but began to de- 
crease early in September, and the last one was found September 20. 
Evidently fall migration can begin in July, at least in some years." 

Field marks. — As the short-billed marsh wren is oftener heard than 
seen, its peculiar and quite characteristic song is the best means of 
identification. Its haunts are different from those of the long-billed 
marsh wren, and it is almost never seen in the cattail swamps. If one 
can get a good look at it, which is not easy, it can be distinguished 
from the long-billed species by the streaked crown and by the absence 
of the white line over the eye and the absence of the black back patch. 
The shorter bill is not very conspicuous in life. 

'Winter. — The 1931 Check-list does not extend the winter range of 
this wren beyond the southern border of the United States, but Dr. 
Sutton (1940) took one and heard others on April 18, 1939, in south- 
ern San Luis Potosi, Mexico; he also saw one in the American Mu- 
seum of Natural History that was taken in Tamaulipas on March 22, 
lf^88. Probably the species winters regularly in at least noithern 


We found it common on various grassy meadows and prairies in 
different parts of Plorida and collected specimens. Mr. Howell (1932) 
says of its haunts : "The Short-billed Marsh Wren, during the winter 
season in Florida, is found in marshes, both fresh and salt, and in 
old fields or prairies where there is a growth of dense, matted grass 
or weeds. The birds remain hidden in the vegetation most of the time, 
but are easily flushed by walking toward them, when they fly weakly 
for a short distance and drop again into the grass. At times I have 
heard them chattering in the marsh grass, or rarely singing a little." 
About Tarpon Springs, W. E. D. Scott (1890) has "taken the birds 
in both salt and fresh water marshes, though marshes of sedge grass 
where the water is brackish and the sedge not very high nor dense 
seem to be preferred." Wayne (1910) says that, in South Carolina, 
"it inhabits freshwater marshes and fields which are covered with 
broom grass, rarely, if ever, resorting to the salt marshes. The 
centre of abundance is on the rice plantations, where it is exceedingly 
abundant during the autumn, winter, and spring months." 

Frederick V. Hebard writes to me : "The number of this abundant 
species to be recorded in the broomsedge fields and flats of south- 
eastern Georgia near dusk on a winter day will only be limited by 
one's perseverance. Wet winter or dry winter, the 'Joren' is there 
in great numbers. It chirps its two-noted call ch-chi'p^ frequently 
during the day and increases it toward dusk to almost choral 


Range. — The species ranges from Canada south to Tierra del 
Fuego, southern South America, the North American race from 
southern Canada to northeastern Mexico. 

Breeding range. — The short-billed marsh wren breeds north to 
southeastern Saskatchewan (Quill Lake) ; southern Manitoba (Lake 
St. Martin, Shoal Lake, and Indian Bay, Lake of the Woods) ; central 
Ontario (Whitefish Lake, Lake Nipissing, and Ottawa) ; southern 
Quebec (Montreal and Llatley) ; and central Maine (Glenburn and 
Bangor). East to central Maine (Bangor) ; and along the Atlantic 
coast to southern Maryland (Ocean City and Point Lookout). South 
to southern Maryland (Ocean City and Point Lookout) ; central Ohio 
(Columbus) ; central Indiana (Indianapolis) ; and central Missouri 
(St. Louis and Kansas City). West to western Missouri (Kansas 
City) ; eastern Nebraska (Lincoln and West Point) ; eastern South 
Dakota (Vermilion, Sioux Falls, and Petrodie) ; eastern North 
Dakota (Napoleon, Devils Lake, and the Turtle Mountains) ; and 
southeastern Saskatchewan (Quill Lake). It has been found breed- 
ing at Barbourville, Ky., and there are probably other semiisolated 


Winter range. — In winter the short-billed marsh wren is confined to 
the coastal region of southeastern United States and northeastern Mex- 
ico from North Carolina (Cape Hatteras) south through South Caro- 
lina and Georgia (Savannah and Macon) to southern Florida (Koyal 
Pahn Hammock) ; west along the Gulf coast to Texas (Austin and 
Brownsville) ; and south to Tamaulipas (Quijano) and southeastern 
San Luis Potosi (Tamazunchale), Mexico. 

Spring migration. — Late dates of spring departure are : Florida — 
Pensacola, April 25. Georgia — Athens, May 8. North Carolina — 
Raleigh, May 4. Texas — College Station, April 23. Kansas — 
Onaga, May 22. 

Early dates of spring arrival are: Georgia — Athens, April 10. 
North Carolina — Chapel Hill, April 28. Pennsylvania — State Col- 
lege, April 26. New York — Rochester, April 30. Massachusetts — 
Wayland, May 2. Ohio — Painesville, May 2. Ontario — London, May 
9. Indiana — Kendallville, May 1. Michigan — Battle Creek, April 
30. Illinois — Chicago, April 21. Iowa — Grinnell, April 28. Wis- 
consin — ^Madison, May 1. Minnestoa — Duluth, May 5. Kansas — 
Manhattan, April 25. South Dakota — Vermilion, May 9. Mani- 
toba — Aweme, April 29. 

Fall migration. — Late dates of fall departure are: Manitoba — 
Aweme, October 2. South Dakota — Forestburg, October 5. Ne- 
braska — Lincoln, September 27, Kansas — Lawrence, October 15. Min- 
nesota — Minneapolis, October 6. Wisconsin — Racine, October 15. 
Iowa — Keokuk, October 13. Michigan — Detroit, October 2. Illi- 
nois — Glen Ellyn, October 17. Indiana — Waterloo, October 1. On- 
tario — Ottawa, October 4. Ohio — Youngstown, September 17. New 
York — Branchport, October 11. Pennsylvania — Carlisle, September 
20. Massachusetts — Northampton, October 10. Connecticut — Fair- 
field, October 7. North Carolina — Chapel Hill, October 7. 

Early dates of fall arrival are : Kansas — Onaga, August 7. Texas — 
Corpus Christi, October 6. North Carolina — Chapel Hill, August 19. 
Georgia — Athens, August 9. Florida — Fort Myers, September 29. 

Casual records. — A specimen was taken near Camrose, Alberta, on 
September 19, 1927; a specimen was collected at Norway House, Mani- 
toba, on June 20, 1900, that was possibly nesting but no nest was 
found; a specimen was taken at Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 14, 
1889 ; a specimen collected 15 miles northeast of Mosca, Colo., in the 
San Luis Valley, on October 23, 1907, is the first record from west of 
the mountains ; in North Dakota several were noted in a meadow near 
Kenmare in July 1913, possibly a breeding colony; near Pungo, Va., 
several pairs were noted from May 17 to 20, 1932. Several records in 
winter north of the normal range are : a specimen taken at Ann Arbor, 
Mich., on January 15, 1938 ; a record from Jones Beach, Long Island, 


N. Y., on December 28, 1913 ; and it is reported to occur occasionally in 
winter near Philadelphia, Pa. 

Egg dates. — Massachusetts: 25 records, May 25 to July 29; 13 
records, June 1 to July 7, indicating the height of the season. 

New Jersey : 8 records, May 30 to August 20. 

South Dakota : 2 records, June 9 and June 19. 

Wisconsin : 10 records, June 1 to August 19. 



Four races of this species were recognized in the 1931 Check-list, 
and five were recognized by Ridgway (1904) ; one of these is strictly 
Mexican ; and recent investigations have indicated that only two forms 
should be included in our Check-list. The type race, Catherpes mexi- 
canus mexicanu^, inhabits the central and southern portions of the 
Mexican Plateau. According to the above authorities, C. m. alhifrons 
occupies the northern portion of the Mexican Plateau and extends its 
range into central western Texas, near the mouth of the Pecos River. 
Recent faunal investigations have extended this range considerably. 
Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) referred to this race the canyon wrens 
collected in the Chisos Mountains in Brewster County ; and Burleigh 
and Lowery (1940) collected a number of specimens of it in the 
Guadalupe Mountains, close to the New Mexico line. Both of these 
localities are far removed from the mouth of the Pecos River where it 
empties into the Rio Grande. It seems fair to assume that this will 
prove to be the breeding form throughout the whole of extreme 
western Texas. 

According to Ridgway (1904) , this subspecies is similar to the type 
race in size, with a bill averaging longer, but the coloration is "much 
paler, the general color of upper parts more grayish brown chestnut 
of abdomen, etc., paler, and black bars on tail averaging narrower." 

The specimens collected in the Chisos Mountains were taken mainly 
between 5,000 and 6,000 feet elevation, and in the Guadalupe Moun- 
tains at elevations ranging fi'om 6,000 to 8,000 feet; in the latter 
locality this wren "was never known to venture to the foot of the 

Nesting. — The nesting habits of the white-throated wren are ap- 
parently not different from those of canyon wrens elsewhere. There 
is a set of four eggs, with the nest, in tlie Thayer collection in 
Cambridge that was taken in Nueva Leon, Mexico, on April 12, 1911, 
for F. B. Armstrong. It was in a snug corner of a crevice in the 
rock on the perpendicular wall of a canyon, about a hundred feet 
from the base of the cliff. The nest is made of mosses, lichens, and 


wool, with a few weed stems and strips of inner bark; and it is 
profusely lined with soft plant down and a little wool. In its pres- 
ent condition it measures about 4 by 41/2 inches in outside and 2 by 
214 inches in inside diameter; it is about 1% inches high and is 
cupped to a depth of 1 inch. 

Eggs. — The eggs in the above set are ovate and slightly glossy. 
Their ground color is pure white and they are sparingly sprinkled with 
very small spots or fine dots of light reddish brown, more thickly dis- 
tributed near the larger ends. They measure 19.1 by 14.4, 19.3 by 14.1, 
19.0 by 14.3, and 18.5 by 14.2 millimeters. 

Plumages.— Ridgwa,j (1904) says that the young of the Mexican 
race are "similar to adults, but upper parts more coarsely vermicu- 
lated with dusky and with few if any white specks or dots; chest- 
nut of abdomen, etc., duller, immaculate, or with very indistinct 
narrow dusky bars, mostly on flanks." 

Voice. — The following attractive tribute to the song of the canyon 
wren by Dr. William Beebe (1905) also refers to the Mexican sub- 
species : 

The beautiful little wren-sprites of the bari-anca were the first to waken and 
sing, and we hardly recognized in them the Mexican Canyon Wrens of tlie 
house tops of Guadalajara. Here they were in their native haunts, and their 
marvellous hymn of sweetness rang out frequently in the early morning, re- 
echoing among the rocky cliffs. We caught the real inspiration of the wild 
joyous strain, which was so obscured and fitted so ill with the environment 
of the dusty city. It is a silvery dropping song of eight or ten clear sweet 
notes, becoming more i>laintive as they descend, and ending in several low, 
ascending trills. The silvery quality is of marvellous depth and purity, and 
although at times the birds sang with startling loudness from the very ridge- 
pole of the tent, there was not a trace of harshness or aught save liquid clear- 
ness. It seemed the very essence of the freshness of dawn in the cool bottom 
of the canyon. The little singer was not easily detected in the gray light, 
but at last his tremulous white throat was seen high overhead at tlie entrance 
of some dripping, mossy crevice in the rocks, his tiny body and wings of dark 
chocolate hue merging into the background. 

As the sunlight traveled slowly downward toward us, the notes flowed more 
slowly from his throat, until, with the increasing warmth, only a few sleepy 
tones were heard — like the last efforts of the dying katydids at the time of the 
first frost. But the wren himself was far from sleepy. The heat had simply 
thawed the frozen music from his heart and he now began the serious work of 
the day. * * • 

Of all the birds of the barrancas these wrens perhaps won our deepest affection ; 
so tiny were they, and yet each morning filling the whole great gorge with their 


Range. — ^Western United States and Mexico, nonmigratory except 
for a slight altitudinal movement. 

The canyon wren ranges north to central southern British Columbia 

758066—48 19 


(Okanagan Valley north to Naramata) ; Washington (Sheep Moun- 
tain and Nighthawk) ; Idaho (Lewiston and Salmon Kiver) ; Montana 
(Billings); and Wyoming (Newcastle). East to Wyoming (New- 
castle and Laramie) ; Colorado (Boulder,, Golden, Manitou, and west- 
ern Baca County) ; Oklahoma (Black Mesa near Kenton and Wichita 
Mountains) ; south-central Texas (Austin, Boerne, and San Antonio) ; 
Tamaulipas (Gomez Farias) ; Veracruz (Chichicaxtle and Jico) ; 
Puebla (Puebla and Atlixco) ; and Oaxaca (Cuicatlan and Tehuan- 
tepec). South to Oaxaca (Tehuantepec and Santo Domingo) and 
Guerrero (Taxco and Chilpancingo). West to Guerrero (Chilpan- 
cingo) ; Colima (Rio de Coahuyana) ; Baja California (La Paz Laguna 
Hanson, and Los Goronados Islands) ; California (the coast range as 
far north as San Francisco Bay, Escondido, Pasadena, San Jose, Baird, 
and Mount Shasta) ; Oregon (eastern slope of the Cascades, Ashland, 
Brownsboro, and the mouth of the Deschutes River) ; Washington 
(Wishram, Yakima, and Chelan) ; and British Columbia (Okanagan 

The range as outlined is for the entire species, of which two sub- 
species or geogi'aphic races are now recognized in the United States. 
The typical race {C. m. meocicanus) is confined to Mexico; the white- 
throated wren {C. m. albifrons) occurs from central western Texas, 
near the mouth of the Pecos River, south over the Mexican Plateau to 
Zacatecas; the canyon wren {C. m. conspersus) occupies the rest of the 
range in the United States and British Columbia. 

Casual records. — Two specimens were collected, adult and young, 
August 2 and 6, 1935, in Spearfish Canyon, S. Dak., the first record 
for the state ; one was seen August 12, 1903 in the canyon of the White 
River, Sioux County, Nebraska, between Glen and Andrews; a speci- 
men was collected on November 23, 1906, near Cheyenne Wells. Colo. 

Egg dates. — Arizona : 6 records, April 18 to June 12. 

California : 68 records, March 28, to July 11 ; 34 records, April 21 to 
May 17, indicating the height of the season. 

Colorado : 2 records, May 8 and June 9. 

Texas : 20 records, March 4 to June 19 ; 10 records, April 8 to 30. 



Plates 52, 53 


On April 17, 1922, we drove down from the rough roads of the Cata- 
lina Mountains, Ariz., and pitched camp in the heart of Apache 
Canyon, one of the grandest and most beautiful of the canyons we had 
seen. Near our camp the floor of the canyon was broad and fairly 
smooth, though stony ; it was watered by a clear mountain stream that 


flowed gently over a wide, stony bed ; it was well shaded by gigantic 
and picturesque sycamores and by enormous cottonwoods whose lofty, 
spreading branches reminded us of our familiar New England elms. 
A zone-tailed hawk had a nest in one of the cottonwoods and greeted 
us with anxious cries. 

Early the next morning we were awakened by the melodious songs 
of Arizona cardinals and by the Cassin's kingbirds' loud, striking 
notes, "come here, come here," as they flitted about in the big white syca- 
mores over our heads. Above our camp we found the canyon to be 
heavily wooded with cottonwoods, sycamores, a variety of oaks, maples, 
walnuts, and other trees, in which red-tailed and Cooper's hawks had 
their nests. The sides of the canyons were rough and rocky, in some 
places very steep or even precipitous, and more or less overgrown with 
hackberries, thorns, mesquites, and mountainmisery, where these and 
small giant cacti could find a foothold. We saw or heard a long list 
of interesting birds, but the gem of them all was the canyon wren. Its 
wild, joyous strain of sweet, silvery notes greeted us as we passed some 
steep cliffs; they seemed to reverberate from one cliff to another, to 
fill the whole canyon with delightful melody and to add a fitting charm 
to the wild surroundings. 

The above is fairly typical of the haunts of this species, for most 
observers seem to agree it is well named as a dweller on the cliffs 
or the rocky slopes of the canyons, where it can dodge in and out among 
the numerous cracks, crannies, and dark little caves. But it is not 
wholly confined to such places and has even adapted itself to living 
in human surroundings. George Finlay Simmons (1925) says that, 
in Texas, it is found about "old rock buildings in towns ; less commonly, 
about houses and barns." It is "common in and about the city of 
Austin, and sings from the chimneytops with the Western Mocking- 
birds and Texas Long-tailed Wrens." Keferring to this, Mrs. Bailey 
(1902) remarks that "when they do, what cool, grateful canyon memo- 
ries they awaken in the midst of the town ! When heard afterwards 
on their own native canyon cliffs it seems impossible that they could 
ever sing in a city, their song is so attuned to the wild mountain fast- 
nesses." W. Leon Dawson (1923) writes : "There is no place forbidden 
to a Canyon Wren, no rock wall which frights him, no tunnel's mouth, 
nor intricacy of talus bed. He has no special predilection for the pic- 
turesque, however, as his name might seem to imply. A brush pile 
or a heap of old tin cans will do as well as a miner's cabin or an old 

This race of the species has by far the widest range of any ot the 
forms of the species ; and, if we eliminate punctulattbs ^ and poUopfilus, 
as modern research seems to indicate that we should, conspersics inhab- 

1 See Grlnnell and Behle (1935) for reasons why G. m. punctulatus is synonymous with 


its all suitable regions in western North America from the eastern 
edge of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific slope, except for the 
restricted range of alhifrons in Texas. It differs but little from 
alhifrons, being paler and smaller. 

Nesting. — We eventually foimd the nest of the pair we saw in 
Apache Canyon. It was in a small cave at the base of a rock cliff, and 
almost inaccessible in a crevice above a little shelf in the roof of the 
cave. Other nests have been found in similar situations. For ex- 
ample. Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1920) found a nest in a gulch near 
Lake Burford, N. Mex., of which he says: 

The nest was placed on a small shelf of rock in the top of a shallow cave 
or hollow in a sandstone cliff. This ledge was about 15 feet from the floor 
of the gulch, and the cave was approximately 3 feet high. * * * The nest 
measured 8 inches across the base and 3 inches tall. The cup containing the eggs 
was 2^2 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. The foundation was composed 
of a dozen or more small twigs upon which were placed moss and masses of 
spider webbing with bits of leaves, catkins and bud scales. The nest Uning was 
composed of a heavy felting of sheep's wool, most of it white, though a few 
bits of dark brown wool were mixed through it. In addition, in the cavity con- 
taining the eggs, were a few feathers of Great Horned Owl, Violet-green Swallow 
and Cassin's Finch. 

The nest has been said to resemble that of the wood pewee in shape 
and appearance, aiid W. E. D. Scott (1888a) says : 

In the Catalinas I took in all half a dozen nests that were built much like the 
nest of the Phoebe [Sayornis phoebe), the .same thick, heavy walls, rather soft 
and covered with green moss on the outside characterizing the structure, and 
the inside cavity not so broad or shallow as in the case of the Phoebe. The 
nest is generally placed in some deserted tunnel or cave, and at times in unused 
buildings. It is found more frequently on some projecting ledge or shelf, and 
rarely in some cranny or hole that will scarcely permit the old birds to enter. 
The eggs are from four to six in number, and three broods are generally reared 
each season. 

Mrs. Lila M. Lofberg (1931) has published an interesting account 
of a most remarkable nest of this wren, which she studied intensively. 
She says : "Early last spring the men in the general office of the South- 
ern California Edison Co, at Big Creek, Fresno County, wondered 
where all their clips, pins and such were disappearing to, when they 
discovered a pair of Caiion Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus 'punctulatus) 
were utilizing them in the building of their nest." After the wrens had 
left it, she took the nest home and analyzed the wonderful collection 
of varied materials that entered into it ; the energy and industry dis- 
played by the birds in gathering the materials and building the nest 
was hardly exceeded by the patience and painstaking care shown by 
her in pulling it to pieces. Here is her description of it: 

The foundation, 4i/^ inches in height and 5 inches square at the base, contained 
the following items: 152 twigs and slivers of wood ranging in length from % 
to 8% inches, with a diameter or breadth of from '^k to V-y inch ; 15 lengths of 


straw, 11/4 to 8^/4 iuches long; 43 pine catkins; 4 pieces of wire insulation ma- 
terial, Ys to 2^4 inches long ; 14 Supreme paper clips ; 1 Ideal paper clip, 3 inches 
in length ; 628 Gem paper clips ; 14 T pins ; 1 2-inch safety pin ; 582 common 
pins ; 28 rubber bands ; 1 three-coil spring ; 1 screw top from LePage's glue con- 
tainer ; 11 steel pen points ; 19 thumb tacks ; 2 small screws ; 11 galvanized cup- 
head tacks ; 1 carpet tack ; 2 insulation tacks ; 67 rusty nails ; 2 small pieces of 
rawhide shoe lace; 1 3-inch darning needle; 69 Star paper fasteners; 3 small 
pieces of insulated wire; 27 pieces of wire (5 copper), all short; 1 steel tape 
tip; 87 matches (three unburnt) ; 4 toothpicks. 

This grand total of 1,791 countable things, while haphazardly placed was 
held firmly by a filling of i/^ pound of the following: Cobwebs, lint, dust, tliread, 
sawdust, wood shavings, bits of paper, broom straw, twine, rope, plaster board, 
pine needles, splinters, shreds and pieces of pine bark, and asbestos, shells, and 
gauzy wings of insects, an air-mail label, horsehair, small pieces of walnut shell, 
triangle of glass (14 inch base and 1 inch in length), and an Eversharp pencil 

The nest proper was so firmly fastened to the foundation that it was not easy 
to dislodge. It was 4 x 5^^ inches with an outside depth of 3% inches. It was 
composed of very small pieces of straw, pine needles, string, rope, thread, and 
twigs. It was a solid mat made by clever filling of dust, lint, and dog and horse 
hairs. The upper 2 inches were very soft, made entirely of padding filched from 
mattresses. Into this was hollowed the cup for the eggs, 2^^ inches across at 
the rim and 1% at the bottom, the depth being % of an inch. 

The nest proper weighed only an ounce, while that of the entire structure was 
2%6 pounds. 

Mr. Simmons (1925) says that, in the Austin region of Texas, the 
canyon wren nests "rarely, in holes in cedar fence posts, eaves of out- 
houses and rafters of barns, crevices about rock buildings, cross-braces 
underneath houses and cabins, under cornices of verandas, and in 
chimneys of uninhabited houses; before abundance of the European 
House Sparrow, nested in mail boxes as commonly as does the Texas 
Long-tailed Wren." 

Mrs. Amelia S. Allen tells me of a nest that "was placed inside a 
crude lean-to made of rusty oil cans. The rusty red of the wren 
matched exactly the color of the tin." 

Eggs. — The canyon wren usually lays 5 or 6 eggs to a set, some- 
times only 4 and rarely more than 6. These vary from ovate to nearly 
elliptical-ovate. The ground color is pure, clear white. The eggs are 
usually very sparingly marked with fine dots of reddish brown, some- 
times so faintly marked as to appear immaculate; more rarely the 
markings are small spots of darker brown, which even more rarely 
may be concentrated about the larger end. Apparently they are never 
as heavily marked as are other wrens' eggs. The measurements of 50 
eggs of the canyon wren and the dotted wren combined average 17.9 
by 13.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 
19.8 by 13.7, 17.7 by 14.1, 16.8 by 12.7, and 17.5 by 12.6 millimeters. 
These were selected at random from the large series in the United 
States National Museum. 

Behavior. — Grinnell and Storer ( 1924) mention the following items 


that are not recorded under the other subspecies: "Like the Rock 
Wren, the Canon Wren has acquired a special flatness of body struc- 
ture, which is an obvious adaptation to allow it passage through 
horizontal crevices. * * * The bird's legs (tarsi) are short and 
are held at an acute angle with the surface on which it is travelling, 
so that the body is close to the substratum. At intervals of 2 to 12 
seconds the hinder parts are slowly raised and then instantaneously 
depressed. So quickly and violently is this done that the whole body 
is drawn into the movement." 

Young. — Dr. Wetmore (1921) says of a brood of young that he ob- 
served near Williams, Ariz. : 

On July 8 a female was found feeding young in the canyon south of town. The 
young, three in number, though not fully fledged, had left the nest and reposed 
at the bottom of a cleft in the rock in a space 2 inches wide. * * * The labor 
of caring for them seemed to be left entirely to the female, though the male was 
in the vicinity. The female came and went fearlessly carrying food, in the form 
of brown cricliets with elongated antennae, paying little attention to me as I 
peered in the crevice with my face barely two feet away. After feeding she car- 
ried away excrement exactly as though the young were in the nest. The young 
were able to climb up and down the steepest rock surfaces with no difficulty what- 
ever. When placed m the open, they became more alert and after a minute or so 
clambered away toward shelter. The heat of the sun, though apparently mild, 
affected them severely so that they panted heavily and closed their eyes seeming 
almost overpowered; it is probable that never before had they felt its rays. 
The call note for food was a faint tsee tsee. 

Plumages. — I have seen no very young canyon wrens. Young birds 
in Juvenal plumage look much like the adults, but the colors are all 
duller ; there are few if any white spots on the upperparts, which are 
more or less mottled or vermiculated with dusky; the rich brown of 
the abdominal region is paler and is immaculate rather than spotted. 
I have seen birds in this plumage as late as August 17 and 30, but usu- 
ally the postjuvenal molt of young birds and the postnuptial molt of 
adults apparently occurs during the last two weeks of August and the 
first two weeks of September. 

Food. — No comprehensive study of the food of the canyon wren 
seems to have been made. It probably does not differ materially from 
the food of other western wrens, consisting mainly, if not wholly, of 
insects and spiders. Its feeding habits are evidently of no economic 
importance in its native wilderness, and, even when living in towns, 
it apparently does no harm and probably destroys many troublesome 

Behavior. — The canyon wren is usually heard long before it is 
seen. We hear the loud, ringing song echoing from the walls of the 
canyon and scan the rocky cliffs to find the tiny source of such a 
soul-filling outburst of melody. We catch a glimpse of his gleam- 
ing white throat before we can make out the outlines of the bird, 
for the browns of body, wings, and tail blend well into the back- 


ground of rocks. At first, as he creeps along some narrow ledge or 
dodges in and out among the loose rocks and crevices of the cliff, we 
may mistake him for a chipmunk or a white-throated mouse, so 
mouselike are his movements. Soon he stops in full view on some 
sharp prominence or even the crest of the cliff, throws back his head, 
his silvery throat swells, and out pours the delicious strain; and 
we are astonished to connect such a volume of sound with such a 
tiny bird. 

The frequent outbursts of song are not allowed to interfere with 
the serious business of the day; much of the daylight hours must 
be spent in climbing over, under, and around the rocks, searching 
in every nook and cranny for hidden insects and spiders. The 
wren's feet, with their sharp claws, are well adapted for climbing, 
even over nearly perpendicular surfaces and over the roofs of small 
caves, much as a brown creeper negotiates the trunks and limbs of 
trees. All day long this tireless bundle of feathered energy ex- 
plores it rocky domain, disappearing from sight and suddenly ap- 
pearing again at some unexpected spot, jumping or flitting from one 
rock to another, its eyes ever alert for its tiny prey and its brown 
tail erect, spread or flirted to express its feelings. 

The canyon wren is not particularly shy, merely somewhat elusive 
and busy with its own affairs. About i-anches and houses it is often 
quite unsuspicious and friendly. W. E. D. Scott (1885), writing 
from Arizona, says: "During that portion of the year when we 
live with doors and windows open (and this is for fully 9 months), 
the little brown friend with silvery throat is often in the rooms of 
the house, hopping about and searching every 'nook and cranny' for 
insect life, and betimes singing as merrily as when on the faces of 
the perpendicular rocks in the canons, which are ever the favorite 
hunting grounds he delights in." And Howard Lacey (1911), who 
lived in Kerrville, Tex., says that "for 2 years a pair lived with us 
in the ranch house and became very tame, hopping about the floor 
and even singing on the table while we were in the room. They 
nested over one of the windows." 

Voice. — ^Many authors have given the voice of the canyon wren 
unstinted and well-deserved praise, for its song is one of the best and 
most surprising of the many delightful songs of American birds. No 
song is quite like it, and when heard for the first time in the wild and 
desolate rocky canyons, to which it is a fitting accompaniment as it 
echoes from cliff to cliff, it creates an impression that can never be 
forgotten. No description is adequate to convey this impression to 
the reader, but the following quotations will give some idea of it. 
Mrs. Bailey (1902) writes: "His voice is so powerful that the canyon 
fairly rings with his song. What joyous notes ! They sound as if his 
happiness were so great that he needs must proclaim it. His song 


comes tripping down the scale growing so fast it seems as if the song- 
ster could only stop by giving his odd little flourish back up the scale 
again at the end. The ordinary song has seven descending notes, but 
often, as if out of pure exurberance of happiness, the wren begins 
with a run of grace notes, ending with the same little flourish. The 
rare character of the song is its rhapsody and the rich vibrant quality 
which has suggested the name of bugler for him, — and a glorious little 
bugler he surely is." Ralph Hoffmann (1927) says: "From the bare 
grim walls of rock the Canon Wren pours out a cascade of sweet liquid 
notes, like the spray of a waterfall in sunshine. The opening notes are 
single staccato notes followed by long-drawn double notes, tsee-i, tsee-i, 
slower and descending in pitch, ending with still lower too-ee too-ee 
too-ee.^^ Mr. Simmons (1925) says that this wren sings from late 
February to November in Texas, and describes the call note as "a clear, 
ringing, rather measured, slightly quickened peupp, peupp, peupp, 
peupp, peupp, each slightly lower in key and pitch than the last, but 
never approaching a trill." Mr. Scott (1885) says that "the female 
sings quite as much as the male." Charles F. Batchelder (1885) calls 
the commonest winter note "a peculiar, loud, harsh, penetrating cry, 
not unlike the ordinary cry of the Nighthawk, and can be heard at a 
long distance. Besides this note I one day heard one repeatedly utter 
a sharp ped-hody, the first syllable being rather prolonged and having 
the principal accent." 

Field marks. — The most conspicuous field mark of the canyon wren 
is the gleaming white throat, which extends well down onto the breast 
and contrasts strongly with the chestnut-brown abdomen ; this latter 
feature will distinguish it at a glance from the rock wren, which is 
sometimes seen in somewhat similar surroundings. The rock wren's 
tail has a conspicuous black subterminal band and whitish tips, whereas 
the tail of the canyon wren has no terminal bands and only a few 
narrow dusky bars. The back of the canyon wren is dotted with 



Plates 54, 55 


Our northern race of the rock wrens occupies a wide range in 
western North America, from the western edge of the Great Plains 
to the Pacific slope, and through much of northern Mexico. Allied 
races occur in Mexico and Central America. Throughout its range 
north of the Mexican boundary its characters are remarkably stable; 
there seems to be no reason for attempting to split it into subspecies ; 
this is in marked contrast with what has been done with such plastic 


species as the horned lark and the song sparrow. One reason for this 
is that its specialized habitat is remarkably uniform, as to sunshine 
and shadow and as to aridity and humidity, throughout its \^ide range. 

An ornithologist is sometimes asked by a beginner where to look 
for birds; the answer is simple, almost anywhere and everywhere, 
for there are few places on this earth where we may not hope to find 
some species of bird. There are, of course, more species of birds and 
more individuals in fertile, well-watered temperate and tropical re- 
gions, but the places that seem to us most forbidding are seldom 
wholly birdless. The raven survives the long winter night on the 
icy shores of Greenland; the pipit and the rosy finches retire to the 
barren mountaintops to breed above timberline; the desert race of 
the horned lark lives on the bare, sun-baked, sandy plains of the south- 
western deserts, where not another living thing appears ; and the rock 
wren makes a living in the hardly less inviting rocky barrens of the 
badlands. Probably these birds have been crowded out of more fav- 
orable environment where competition was too keen and have learned 
to adapt themselves to new conditions and make a living where the 
food supply is scanty but sufficient for their needs. 

During the breeding season, and largely at other times of the year, 
rock wrens confine their activities to bare, open, wind-swept, sunny, 
rocky surfaces, either steep or gently sloping, in valleys, foothills, 
or wide canyons, where there are piles of broken rocks or scattered 
boulders and generally little or no vegetation. On the open plains of 
Cochise County, Ariz., we found them in the dry, rocky arroyos and 
on the open slopes entirely destitute of rocks, where the clayey soil, 
baker hard by the hot, glaring sun, had been cut into miniature can- 
yons 6 to 10 feet deep by the heavy rushing torrents of the previous 
rainy season. 

Limestone quarries are favorite resorts, and the cliffs and caves of 
the deep>er canyons are sometimes invaded, close to the haunts of the 
canyon wrens. Where suitable rocky environment can be found, they 
range upward in the mountains to 8,000 or 10,000 feet. Fred Mallery 
Packard tells me that, in the Kocky Mountain National Park, Colo., 
rock wrens are fairly common summer residents, arriving "at the park 
boundaries in mid-April, some continuing their migration to timber- 
line nesting sites. They nest late in May and in June, the harsh song 
continuing until mid-July, and occasionally it may be heard in August. 
There may be some vertical wandering in summer, when a few have 
been seen above timberline. The descent from the mountains begins 
about August 20, and by the end of September they have left the 

Mrs. Bailey (1902) draws the following pen picture of the rock 
wren in its haunts: '■'■Salpinctes ! To the worker in the arid regions 
of the west this name calls up most grateful memories. On the wind- 


blown rocky stretches where you seem in a bleak world of granite or 
lava with only rock, rock, everywhere, suddenly, there on a stone 
before you", stands this jolly little wren, looking up at you with a bob 
and a shy, friendly glance. The encounter is as cheering as the sight 
of a bird at sea, and before such meetings have been repeated many 
times, you love the little wren as you do the barking conies that give 
life and a touch of companionship to the barren rock slides of the 

Nesting. — Two nests that we found in Cochise County, Ariz., were 
built in holes in the steep, almost perpendicular banks of a little 
arroyo that had been cut out like a miniature canyon by running 
water. The holes were not far from the top of the cut-bank and 4 or 5 
feet from the bottom of the cut, and were exposed by the cutting away 
of the soil (pi. 54) ; they were probably made by gophers or some 
other animal long ago, for the soil w^as baked too hard for the wrens 
to have excavated them. The holes were about 12 inches deep, and 
the nests were placed far back; the entrance to each nest was paved 
with two or three handfuls of small, flat stones, which were also 
found under and behind the nest. The nests were made of grasses, 
straws, weed stems, and rootlets and were lined with fine grasses, 
horsehair, and a few feathers. 

Mrs. Amelia S. Allen writes to me that she found rock wrens nest- 
ing under similar circumstances near Livermore, Calif., "in an eroded 
gulch 10 to 12 feet deep. Nests were in the earthen banks of this 
gulch with not a rock outcropping in sight. In Corrall Hollow it- 
self, we found a nest near the top of an earthen cut about 15 feet 
high. It was lined with sheep's wool and contained six eggs." 

Frank C. Willard records several other nests in his Arizona notes. 
One was in a hole in the wall of an adobe building, 10 feet up ; one 
was 2 feet up in a hole in a large conglomerate boulder in a rocky 
gulch, another in a hole in an old stone reservoir, and one was in the 
top of a window casing in an adobe wall; the entrances to all the 
above nests were paved with stone chij^s, and in one case the paving 
was mixed with bits of wood. He mentions two other nests, one of 
which was in an old stove and the other in an old table drawer in a 
deserted house. 

The nests are often placed in cavities and small crevices under and 
among loose rocks ; such nests are usually far out of sight and difficult 
to find, as the birds give no indication of the exact spot among hun- 
dreds of possible sites in a large area. Often the birds appear more 
unconcerned when the searcher is near the nest than when he is far 
away from it. Nearly always the entrance to the nest is paved with 
small, flat stones, and, where these can be seen, the nest may be easily 
located. In some cases there is no room for a paved walk to the 
nests, or perhaps no necessity for it; but always, so far as I can 


learn, these small stones are used as a foundation for the nest, or are 
mixed with the material of the nest. In some cases the stone walk 
extends 8 or 10 inches out from the nest. The stones vary in length 
from half an inch to 2 inches or a little more, and it seems remarkable 
that the slender bills of the birds are strong enough to carry them, 
often for a considerable distance. The reasons for this curious 
habit, which seems to be so universal, are not well understood. In 
some cases the stones are piled up so high at the entrance that only the 
flattened body of the wren can enter, thus possibly forming a barrier 
to entering enemies. Or, they may serve as direction marks to help 
the owners to find the home crevice. But neither of these theories 
seems wholly satisfactory ; perhaps some day we may know the answer. 
The rock wren is, I believe, the only permanently resident land bird 
on the Farallone Islands, where it seems to breed abundantly among 
the rocks. Milton S. Ray (1904) found about 20 nests there, including 
old and new. He says : 

Whether the nest was in a niche in the cliffs, beneath a rock fence, or under 
a gi'anite ledge cropping out above the surface, it was always placed among 
rocks firmly embedded and never amid the loose rocks that lay scattered about 
on the top of the ground. * * * By far the most elaborate nest I found was 
in the rear of the Stone House ; it ran in the earth among the rocks of a rock 
fence. A shelf-like stone at the entrance formed a sort of veranda, and this the 
birds had literally covered, as well as the main corridor leading to the nest. I 
noticed the pavement was equally deep under the nest, and that all the tiny 
nooks and crevices on the way were filled. I carefully counted all the stones and 
other material in this earthen burrow between the bare granite boulders, and 
as it was situated 2 feet up in the wall the birds had undoubtedly brought all 
of them. 

His list of materials follows: One safetypin, 2 pieces of wire, 2 
pieces of a pair of scissors, 10 pieces of zinc from old batteries, 2 fish 
hooks, 2 pieces of glass, 1 piece of leather, 4 copper tacks, 2 pieces of 
limestone, 4 pieces of plaster from the walls of the house, 12 pieces of 
shingles (some as large as 2 by 3 inches), 9 bits of abalone shells, 20 
bits of mussel shells, 106 rusty nails, 227 bits of flat rusty iron, 492 
small granite stones (very regular in size), and 769 bones of rabbits, 
fish, and birds, as well as the usual nesting material. 

He continues : "The birds in this case had easy access to all the little 
bits of material that accumulate around dwellings; but even then, 
what a vast amount of patience and labor, as well as perception, it 
required to find and transport the 1,665 listed objects, to say nothing 
of building the nest itself ! This was composed of the bird's favorite 
substance, excelsior packing, together with a few weeds and grasses 
and bits of cotton and rabbit fur tucked in decoratively here and there, 
and measured 5i/4 inches over all, while the cavity was 3 inches across 
by iy2 inches deep." He suggests that lining the passageway and 
placing stones under the nest may serve to keep them free from damp- 


ness. He noticed that more stones were used where the nests were 
built on earthen floors, than when built on rocks, and says that the 
birds line the passageway and the nest cavity before the nest is built. 

Philo W. Smith, Jr. ( 1904) , found 13 nests in an extensive limestone 
quarry in Texas and says that "where the nests were located at the 
bottom of the quarry there was no attempt at building a walk, but 
when the nest was situated in a crevice the walk was invariably there 

Eggs. — Five and six eggs are the commonest numbers laid by the 
rock wren, but sometimes as few as four constitute a full set, seven or 
eight are not rare, and as many as ten have been found in a nest. 
Ovate is the commonest shape. The ground color is pure, glossy white, 
and the eggs are sparingly and irregularly sprinkled with fine dots 
of reddish brown, "cinnamon-rufous," or "burnt umber." The meas- 
urements of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum average 
18.6 by 14.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 
20.3 by 15.2, 19.6 by 15.7, 15.8, by 14.7, and 18.8 by 13.7 millimeters. 

Young. — Generally two and perhaps sometimes three broods are 
raised in a season. As the male has been seen to assist his mate in 
building the nest, and to feed the female on the nest, it is fair to 
assume that both parents help in the feeding and care of the young. 

Plumages. — I have seen no very young rock wrens, but those in 
Juvenal plumage differ from adults in having the upperparts faintly 
and narrowly barred with dusky, instead of streaked, and lacking 
the white spots ; the light brown, "vinaceous-cinnamon" rump is im- 
maculate; and the underparts are whiter than in the adult and un- 
spotted, with a brownish wash on the flanks and under tail coverts. 

Dickey and van Rossem (1938) say of the molting of this wren in 
El Salvador : "Juveniles taken on the Colinas de Jucuaran as late as 
September 7 have only just commenced the postjuvenal body molt. 
Adults from the same locality show the annual molt to commence 
about August 1, and a specimen taken September 7 is in practically 
complete, fresh, fall plumage. There is no spring molt discernible 
in numerous specimens taken between February 26 and March 26, 
and it seems likely that none normally occurs." 

I have seen adults molting as early as the first week in July and 
at other dates during that month ; other adults that I have examined 
have been in worn breeding plumage as late as August 7, and others 
had completed the postnuptial molt during the first two weeks in 

Food. — Very little seems to have been published on the food of the 
rock wren, no detailed analysis having been made. Living as it does 
in rocky barrens, its food is of little importance to the agriculturalist. 
Its food probably is much like that of other wrens, consisting mainly 


of spiders, beetles, and other insects that it finds among the rocks, it 
is surprising how many insects are to be found even in such unpromis- 
ing places. R. C. Tate (1925) says that, in Oklahoma, its favorite 
food seems to be "earth worms, and grubs from the bark of trees." 
Junius Henderson (1927) states that Aughey includes the rock wren 
among the birds that feed their young on locusts in Nebraska. Knowl- 
ton and Harmston (1943) report that, of 74 stomachs of Utah birds 
examined, 30 contained 59 adult grasshoppers and 1 nymph. 

Behavior. — The sprightly little rock wren adds a delightful spark 
of life to the barren rocky landscape where he chooses to make his 
home, a tiny bit of cheerful companionship for the lonely traveler 
and a charming surprise in some unlikely spot. He is a busy, active 
little body, dodging out of sight among the rocks, or perching for 
a moment on some nearby stone to look us over, for he is not par- 
ticularly shy. Dr. Oberholser (1921) pictures him very well as 
follows : 

If started up from work or rest his quick, jerky flight to the nearest point 
of observation preludes a sharp, harsh note of Interrogation and alarm, almost 
startling in its suddenness and volume, which degenerates into a prolonged 
sputtering scold, as the bird works himself into a ridiculous frenzy of voice and 
of action over what he doubtless regards as a wholly unvparranted and quite 
reprehensible intrusion. But his is an acquaintance that may well be cultivated, 
for once we are in his confidence he is found to be more tlian ordinarily interest- 
ing; he will sing for us, and this performance is by no means monotonous or 
unattractive; or, confiding in our friendship, he may even lead us to the spot 
where, protected under an overhanging ledge or hidden away in a crevice of 
the rocks, is bis little home. His lot, with several voracious mouths to feed in 
this all too barren land, might readily seem to be a hard one, but this is only 
apparent, for the desert yields to the patient toil of this little worker far more 
than falls under the gaze of the passing traveler. 

As we know so little about the roosting habits of birds, the following 
note by R. M. Bond ( 1940) is of interest : 

The night of October 15, 1939, two Rock Wrens (Salpinctes olsoletus) were 
found asleep in a shed near some cliffs in southern Alameda County. The 
wrens were perched side by side on the rough, vertical side of a mud wasp 
nest {Sceliphron, sp.) which was built on the 4 inch side of a 2 by 4 inch rafter. 
The position of the wrens was vertical, substantially that of a perching wood- 
pecker or creeper (Certhia), with the tails jammed against the mud wasp nest 
for support and the feet at about mid-breast level, and far enough apart to show 
the outer toe on each side when the bird was viewed from behind. It was not 
possible to see exactly how the heads were held, but apparently they were 
placed with the beak pointed downward between one wing and the body. One 
of the birds awoke and slipped away in the beam of my flashlight, but the other 
did not stir. I left the birds for about 15 minutes, and returned with another 
observer. The wakeful bird had returned to its former position and posture, and 
slipped away again. The heavy sleeper was picked up by hand. It is doubt- 
ful if the birds could have been reached by any small mammal, because of the 
position of the roosting site. 


Voice. — Comments on the musical quality of the rock wren's song 
vary considerably, but, whether the song be harsh or melodious, it is 
a delightful surprise when heard for the first time among the dreary, 
uninhabited rocks, and a cheery note of welcome to the traveler where 
he least expects to find a song bird. By contrast with its surroundings 
it is doubly welcome, and perhaps its quality is overrated. Mrs. 
Bailey (1902) gives it faint praise: "Even his song, which at first 
hearing seems the drollest, most un-bird-like of machine-made tink- 
lings, comes to be greeted as the voice of a friend on the desert, and 
its quality to seem in harmony with the hard, gritty granites among 
which he lives." And Mrs. Nice (1931) likewise says: "This absurd 
little dweller on crags and boulders possesses a number of harsh, grat- 
ing, curious vocalizations which are vastly appropriate to his environ- 
ment. ^Keree Keree Keree' he says, ^Chair chair chair chair, Deedle 
deedle deedle deedle, Tur twr tur tur, Keree keree keree trrrrrrrrrr\'''' 
W. L. Dawson (Dawson and Bowles, 1909) , on the other hand, is more 
appreciative, and says his song is "one of the sprightliest, most musi- 
cal, and resonant to be heard in the entire West. The rock- wall makes 
an admirable sounding-board, and the bird stops midway of what- 
ever task to sing a hymn of wildest exultation. Whittier, lohittier, 
whittier, is one of his finest strains ; while Ka-whee, ka-whee, ka-whee 
is a sort of challenge which the bird renders in various tempo, and 
punctuates with nervous bobs to enforce attention." Kalph Hoffmann 
(1927) refers to "trills and sweet notes that suggest the perfect tech- 
nique and joyous vigor of a Mockingbird. The volume is much less 
and there is much less variety, ti-ou, ti-ou, ti-ou, ti-ou, is a common 
strain, then perhaps flee flee flee, or cheep-oo cheep-oo cheep-oo, each 
strain definite, and succeeded by another quite distinct with a change 
of pitch. The call note, often given with an energetic bob, sounds like 

I might add that, to an easterner, the song sometimes suggests the 
joyous spring song of the brown thrasher, with its series of couplets of 
distinct syllables. 

Field marks. — ^The dull, grayish brown of the upperparts of the 
rock wren blends well with its rocky surroundings, but when it flies 
away from the observer and spreads its tail it shows its best field mark; 
all tail feathers except the central pair are broadly tipped with buffy 
white, and above that a subterminal band of black is very conspicuous. 
The only bird with which it is likely to be compared in a somewhat 
similar environment is the canyon wren, which has a conspicuous white, 
unspotted throat and a rich chestnut abdomen ; its tail lacks the con- 
spicuous terminal bands. In the rock wren the underparts are all dull 
white, with dusky spots or streaks on the chest. 

Enemies. — Rockwell and Wetmore (1914) report that "a young Rock 
Wren just old enough to fly was taken by hand because of its weakened 


condition, and upon examination was found to be infested with large 
white grubs several of which had buried themselves deep into the bird's 
head and were gradually sapping its vitality. These grubs were nearly 
one half inch in length and were all buried out of sight under the skin." 
Dr. Walter P. Taylor (1912) observed one "attacking a chipmunk 
which was sitting on a rock, swooping at it in the same way that a 
mockingbird assaults a cat," which suggests that small mammals may 
take their toll of eggs or young. And Dr. Friedmann (1934) men- 
tions several cases where rock wrens have been imposed upon by 

Winter. — Rock wrens retire to some extent in autumn from their 
summer haunts at the higher altitudes in the mountains as these become 
covered with snow, though they seem reluctant to leave as long as por- 
tions of their range remain open. Many remain in their rocky re- 
treats all winter, but some others seek their winter food in more shel- 
tered brush lands or on open mesas. The rock wren has not yet 
become a dooryard bird, but it sometimes appears in the neighbor- 
hood of houses and gardens. A. H. Anderson (1934a), writes of such 
a case: 

Here on the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz., it lias been present for the last two 
winters around my home. The area is of typical creosote-bush mesa, shading 
gradually into the mesquite and catclaw border of Rillito Creek close by. Some 
of the land is occupied by 1-acre, suburban farm and chicken-ranch tracts. 

A single Wren seems to have occupied the territory during both winters, though 
several times two and three birds were seen. None was seen during the summer 
of 1933. Usually this individual accompanied the mixed flock of birds that 
frequented the district, Gambel's and Brewer's Sparrows, Cactus Wrens, Palmer's 
Thrashers, and House Finches. 

Its curiosity was very pronounced and one could easily regard the bird as tame. 
Sometimes I could approach as close as 5 feet as it stood bobbing upon a wood-pile, 
fence-post, or chicken-house. Several times it came through the open house-door, 
and occasionally it would climb around on the window-sill. It inspected every- 
thing in the vicinity — houses, automobiles, chicken-houses, and wells. 


Range. — Southwestern Canada to Costa Rica. 

Breeding range. — The rock wren breeds north to southern British 
Columbia (Cache Creek, Kamloops, and Shuswap) ; southern Alberta 
(Jasper House, possibly, and Red Deer) ; southeastern Saskatchewan 
(Cypress Hills, Eastend, and Wood Mountain) ; and North Dakota 
(Williston and Charlson). East to western North Dakota (Charlson 
and Mandan) ; western South Dakota (Pierre, Rosebud, and casually 
to Yankton County) ; central Nebraska (Valentine and Calloway) ; 
central Kansas (Rooks Creek and Ellis) ; western Oklahoma (Gates) ; 
central Texas (Vernon, Putnam, Kerrville, and San Antonio) ; 
through Mexico (Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Chiapas) ; western 


Guatemala (Quetzaltenanga and San Incas) ; El Salvador (San Jose 
del Sacare and Volcan de San Miguel) ; and Costa Rica (Hacienda 
El Pelon, Guanacaste). South to Costa Rica (Hacienda El Pelon, 
Guanacaste) . West to Costa Rica ; Guerrero, Mexico (Chilpancingo) ; 
Sinaloa (LosLeones and Suratata) ; Baja California (Cape San Lucas, 
Cedros Island, and Guadalupe Island) ; California (Santa Barbara 
Islands and Berkeley) ; east of the Cascades in northern California 
(Chico and Mount Shasta) ; Oregon (Klamath Lake and The Dalles) ; 
Washington (Yakima and Chelan) ; and British Columbia (Cache 

Winter range. — The rock wren is resident in the southern part of 
its range and in winter is found north to northern California (west 
slope of Mount Lassen and Death Valley) ; Arizona (Fort Mojave, 
Grand Canyon, and Fort Verde) ; New Mexico (San Antonio and Las 
Vegas) ; occasionally to southern Colorado (Pueblo) ; and southern 
Texas (San Angelo, Kerrville, Boerne, and Laredo). There are rec- 
ords of winter occurrence somewhat north of what may be considered 
the normal range. 

The entire species as outlined is divided into three races within our 
limits, others occurring in Mexico and Central America. The common 
rock wren {S. o. ohsoletus) occurs south to San Luis Potosi, Zaca- 
tecas, and Baja California ; the San Benito rock wren {S. o. tenuiros- 
tris) breeds on the San Benito Islands of Baja California; and the 
Guadalupe rock wren {S. o. guadelowpensis) is found on Guadalupe 
Island, Baja California. 

Spring migration. — Some early dates of spring arrival are : Texas — 
Amarillo, March 21. Nebraska — North Platte, April 22. South Da- 
kota — ^White River, April 18. North Dakota — Charlson, May 10. 
Saskatchewan — Eastend, May 3. Colorado — Fort Morgan, April 12. 
Wyoming — Laramie, April 29. Montana — Great Falls, May 5. 
Utah — Salt Lake County, April 11. Idaho — Pocatello, April 22. 
Oregon — Klamath Basin, March 28. Washington — ^Wallula, March 
27. British Columbia — Okanagan Landing, April 26. 

Fall migration. — Some late dates of fall departure are: British 
Columbia — Okanagan Landing, September 29. Washington — Ya- 
kima, September 13. Oregon — Weston, October 3. Utah — Toquer- 
ville, October 13. Wyoming — ^Laramie, October 21. Colorado — 
Boulder, October 2. Saskatchewan — Eastend, September 15. North 
Dakota — Charlson, October 3. Nebraska — Ashby, September 24. 
Texas — Somerset, October 19. 

Casual records. — There are a number of records for the rock wren 
beyond its normal range. In Alberta it was recorded at Edmonton on 
June 29, 1898, and at Chippewyan on June 12 and 17, 1914. One was 
seen at Dell Rapids, S. Dak., on July 20, 1924; one was seen at Pipe- 
stone, Minn., on May 13, 1922 ; one was reported at Monguagon, Mich., 


on October 31, 1910 ; another was observed at Urbana, 111., on May 26, 
1926. There are several records of its occurrence in Iowa as far east as 
National, on September 27, 1914, and one record of its breeding near 
Sioux City in June 1898. Birds were seen there in other years but no 
evidence of breeding. 

Egg dates. — Arizona : 20 records, April 14 to July 16 ; 11 records, 
May 2 to 30. 

California : 77 records, February 5 to July 28 ; 47 records, April 3 to 
May 15, indicating the height of the season. 

Kansas : 28 records. May 8 to July 5 ; 14 records. May 12 to June 1. 

Baja California : 4 records, January 17, March 2 and 4, and April 5. 

Texas : 3 records, April 15 to June 3. 

Washington : 4 records, April 6 to May 20. 




In his original description of this subspecies, Mr. Ridgway (1876) 
says: "The differences exhibited in these insular specimens from the 
continental series are quite slight, but they are so constant as to demand 
recognition. As to colors, there is no difference beyond slightly darker 
shades throughout; the lower parts being soft pinkish cream-color 
instead of creamy-white, the other portions of a darker shade to cor- 
respond. The differences in proportions are more decided." In his 
later work he (1904) describes it as "similar to S. o. obsoletus., but 
decidedly darker, wing and tail shorter, bill longer and stouter, and 
tarsi longer; young with upper parts much darker and more heavily 
barred or vermiculated." 

The Guadalupe wren is confined to the island by that name off the 
west coast of Baja California. Walter E. Bryant (1887) says that 
"this species, undoubtedly the most common of the birds on the island, 
was distributed from the beach to the summit, but was found to be 
most numerous on the upper and central portions.'' 

Nesting. — We are indebted to Mr. Bryant (1887) for practically all 
we know about this wren. On its nesting activities, he writes : 

The weather does not seem to be taken into consideration by any of the resident 
species. The rock-wrens are the first to begin nesting, and endeavor to conduct 
their domestic affairs through tlie stormiest times, though not always with suc- 
cess. Many abandoned nests were found, some with and some without eggs, 
deserted, probably on account of long continued wet weather. The location of 
the nest, however, plays an all-important part in the success or failure of the 
first builders. A few birds began the construction of their nests in December, 
and one had her work nearly completed on the 25th of December, 1885. Four 
fresh eggs were found in it on January 17th. The breeding season, strictly 
speaking, extends from the middle of January through the month of March. 

758066—48 20 


Nests were found in cavities of immense boulders, under roclis, in fallen and 
decayed trunks of cypress trees, the latter location being apparently a favorite 
one. But wherever the nests were located the passages leading to them were, 
with one or two exceptions, paved with flat pebbles ranging in size from a Lima 
bean to a half dollar. Fully a quart of these pebbles were removed from the 
entrance to a nest built in a boulder at a height of 4 feet, where, at some previous 
time, other birds had evidently built and accumulated their share of the pave- 
ment. As a rule scarcely an ordinary handful of stones are used. The nest is 
built in close conformity to the size and shape of the cavity which it occupies, 
being usually circular and varying from a shallow bed of fine dry grasses to a 
nest of the same material measuring 100 mm. in diameter and GO mm. high. The 
egg receptacle is from 55 mm. 70 mm. in diameter, and not more than 30 mm. in 
depth. A lining of goat hair when obtainable is invariably used. I followed 
one bird fully an hundred yards from the spot where she had collected some goat 
hair before the nest was reached. 

Eggs. — According to Mr, Bryant, "the eggs are usually 4, though 
sometimes 5 in number, and resemble both in color and shape those of 
the common rock wren." He gives the measurements of two sets and 
says that the average of 55 eggs is 19 by 14 millimeters. I have the 
measurements of 30 eggs, among which the eggs showing the four 
extremes measure 21.0 by 15.0, 20.0 by 16.0, 17.0 by 14.0, and 18.4 by 
13.3 millimeters. 

Plumages. — Mr. Bryant (1887) describes two stages of immature 
plumages. One which he designates as in "first plumage," evidently 
a nestling, taken January 23, he says is "above lighter than the im- 
mature specimen and grayer than the adult plumage. Below, includ- 
ing throat, pale sulphurous white, becoming pinkish on sides, and 
crissum, which is unmarked." The other, evidently an older bird, 
taken February 19, is "above similar to adult but much darker, * * * 
the bars across middle tail-feathers dull black. The outer half of 
the pale cinnamon on end of tail-feathers finely mottled with dusky. 
Under parts pale pinkish cinnamon; the entire throat obscured with 
a faint dusky suffusion. Crissum darker than abdomen and un- 

Food. — Mr. Ridgway (1876) says that they "frequent the slaughter- 
yards, where goats are killed, to glean insects from the drying bones." 
And Mr. Bryant (1887) said: "Their food consisted mainly of cater- 
pillars and beetles. I watched one pick to pieces and devour succes- 
sively three small Carabide beetles." 

Behavior. — Mr. Bryant (1887) writes: 

They were by nature tamer than any birds I ever met with. While retreating, 
if approached, they would in turn draw quite near to a person who remained 
perfectly quiet. Sitting down one afternoon upon a log, I saw a Rock Wren come 
hopping closer and closer to where I was resting, until at length he perched upon 
my shoe. Then seeing a sandy spot just beyond, he availed himself of the 
opportunity by taking a dust-bath. So close was he to me that I could have 
reached him with my foot, yet constantly in motion, searching here and there 
among the rocks for food, he seemed entirely unconscious of my presence. Even 


when standing, they are seldom quiet, a nervous twitch of the tail or toss of the 
head bearing witness to the incessant activity so characteristic of these little 

Voice. — Of the voice Mr. Bryant (1887) writes : "Seldom silent, they 
have, in addition to their ringing call, a considerable variety of song. 
I became accustomed to the variations of four or five different birds, 
and noticed that each had a song peculiar to himself but differing from 
the songs of his fellows. One little wren near camp was in the habit of 
beginning his song each morning at about half -past six, never varying 
five minutes from his self-appointed time. They are usually seen 
on the ground or upon a rock or stump. One remarkably foggy morn- 
ing, I noticed one sitting on the top of a sage-bush, while on fine days, 
I have seen them mounted to the height of 20 feet on a dry cypress 
twig, singing their cheerful song." 


Adriaan J. van Rossem (1943) discovered that the rock wren of 
the San Benito Islands, off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, has 
a longer bill than the familiar northern type race and gave the above 
name to the island bird. He says that it is "not distinguishable in 
color or pattern of tail markings from Salpinctes obsoletus obsoletus. 
Bill very much longer than that of obsoletus, but at the same time 
distinctly more slender in both vertical and lateral profiles." 

The "very much longer" bill is a matter of about 3 millimeters on 
the averaffe; he gives the measurements for 24 obsoletus as ranging 
from 16.5 to 20.0 and averaging 17.7 millimeters; and for 10 tenuiros- 
tris as ranging from 19.7 to 22.1 and averaging 20.9 millimeters ; the 
measurements seem to overlap slightly. 

Family MIMIDAE: Mockingbirds and Thrashers 



Plates 56-58 


If Mark Catesby had accomplished nothing else in his pioneer work 
of ornithological discovery in Carolina over 200 years ago but intro- 
duce the mockingbird to science it would have been a fitting memorial. 
Had Linnaeus been capable of slang, he might have expressed the 
opinion, when receiving Catesby's notes on the species, that the collec- 
tor "had something there !" Truly, that field worker of other days did 


have something when he heard his first mockingbird, and from his 
far-off day to this the bird has held primary affection in the minds of 
thousands who thrill to its matchless ability of song. 

Audubon expatiated upon the advisability of hearing the mocker 
only amid the magnolias of Louisiana. Since he knew Carolina later, 
a native of the latter State would have expected Audubon to change 
that setting, but doubtless he never found time to rewrite his history of 
the bird ! Seriously, however, everything in his opening paragraphs 
on this species, in which he dilates upon the botanical glories of the 
Pelican State, could have been written with equal accuracy of the 
Carolina Low Country. Charleston, the center of that favored region, 
and the mockingbird are inseparable, for that is where it was first seen 
and made known to science by an ornithologist. 

Linnaeus described the bird from notes furnished by Mark Catesby 
on what the latter called the "Mock-Bird of Carolina" and whose own 
account of the species appears in his "Natural History of Carolina, 
Florida and the Bahama Islands," published in 1731, and accompanied 
by a drawing. Carolinians, then, have a proprietary interest in the 
mockingbird. Actually it occurs much farther afield, of course, but at 
the same time, wherever the name is mentioned, the hearer inevitably 
thinks of the South as the typical habitat. 

Surely, this is as it should be. Can anyone visualize the gray-clad 
aristocrat amid snow and ice, amid spruces and hemlocks, or upon cliffs 
battered by the might of the north Atlantic? Can one visualize it, 
indeed, without mental pictures of moss-bannered live oaks or towering 
magnolias, where the yellow jessamine climbs aloft to burst in golden 
glory among the pines and cypresses and the immaculate disks of 
Cherokee roses reflect the moonlight ? Here, along coasts fringed with 
semitropical jungles of barrier islands, where the slow heave of rollers 
out of the Gulf Stream thunders softly upon yielding sands, is the 
mocker's home. Here, amid the crimson clusters of cassina and holly 
the mocker lives, or is equally at home in a moon-drenched old city 
whose garden walls and graceful spires reflect the golden civilization of 
a vanished era. Yes, to Charlestonians and other Carolinians, the 
entire scope of ornithology might be summed up and typified in a 
single species, and that species . . . the mockingbird ! 

Spring. — Almost universally considered a southern bird, the mocker 
has undoubtedly been increasing its range northward and westward 
in recent years. It is now well known in New England and as far 
west as Knox County, 111., and parts of Iowa (Monroe County). Pos- 
sibly this spreading population might be considered as an "overflow" 
from the normal range, somewhat like certain other species that have 
apparently thrived upon the march of civilization and increased rather 
than decreased in numbers. While most mockingbird populations in 
the South appear to be largely stable (the writer is unable, for in- 


stance, to note any annual shifting of numbers in South Carolina), 
certain concentrations in parts of the southern range indicate that 
there may be a short migration in fall and an early return in spring. 

In Florida, where the bird is abundant the year round, there are 
times when many more are to be seen in certain places in winter than 
occur in summer. This is certainly the case in the Keys, where the 
writer has, in winter, noted the mocker in greater abundance than any- 
where else in the entire South. Through six years of fall and winter 
trips in the Keys he has, time and again, been impressed with the pres- 
ence of the bird on Key Largo. Counting completely at random, he 
has seen the bird average seven individuals to a mile along the Overseas 
Highway for as much as 15 miles. All these, of course, were on con- 
spicuous perches ; no search was made, for the birds were seen from a 
moving car. 

Increasing records from far northern points are evident. Even in 
Maine the mocker is now beginning to show itself, and winter records 
from various parts of New England are not the uncommon events they 
once were. Indeed, in southern New England the mocker is now 
resident ( E. H. Forbush, 1929 ) . One of the most remarkable northern 
occurrences is that of an individual seen on Mount Desert Island, 
Maine (Acadia National Park), by Maurice Sullivan (1940) in the 
winter of 1940. As an added touch of complete incongruity, an ivory 
gull {PagopMla alba) was seen at the same time, February 10. Thus, 
the far north and the deep south were brought together in as strange 
an avian mixture as perhaps has ever been noted in this country. 

Definite evidence of some movement on the part of individual birds 
has been secured by banding. F. C. Lincoln (1939) lists an instance 
of a mocker banded at Haddonfield, N. J., on November 25, 1932, being 
found dead at Shadyside, Md., on May 25, 1935. This was a northerly 
banded winter bird found in spring some distance to the southward. 
Another specimen, banded at Nashville, Tenn., on May 26, 1934, was 
killed at Fulton, Miss., on January 29, 1936. This represents a di- 
rectly westward movement. 

Frank L. Farley, of Camrose, Alberta, contributes the following 
note : "The nesting of a pair of mockingbirds in central Alberta during 
the summer of 1928 was one of the most remarkable ornithological 
discoveries since the country was first opened to settlement. That sea- 
son a pair of these southern birds nested in the garden of Mr. Mc- 
Naughton, on the western edge of the town of Didsbury. This is 
about 200 miles north of the Montana border and roughly between 50 
and 60 miles east of the Rockies. The unusual 'find' was published 
in the local paper. The Pioneer^ issue of June 21, 1928. Later that 
summer when returning from a trip I called at Mr. McNaughton's 
home to get further particulars, but unfortunately the family was 
absent. However, I talked with neighbors who were familiar with the 


circumstances, and they verified the statements that appeared in the 
paper. This is, I believe, the most northerly point at which the mock- 
ingbird has been recorded on the continent." 

Courtshi'p. — As might be expected in so individualistic a species as 
the mocker, its courtship procedure is a spectacular performance. At 
least, that is what many have taken its characteristic actions to be. 
These have been described as a "dance" and have been witnessed by 
hundreds of observers all over the bird's range. It is well described 
by Mrs. A. B. Harrington, of Dallas, Tex. (1923), as follows: "It 
was a curious and most interesting performance. The first time they 
danced exactly opposite each other. They faced each other about a 
foot apart, hopped up and down, moving gradually to one side, then 
back again, and so on. A second pair began their dance in the same 
position, but first one hopped twice to one side, then the other followed 
the first, which hopped again sideways and the other followed, al- 
ways facing each other, then they moved back in the same manner to 
where they started and repeated the performance. After each dance 
was finished the birds flew off a short distance in opposite directions." 

W. M. Tyler (MS.) describes a similar performance witnessed near 
Lake Okeechobee, Fla., in April 1941. He saw "two mockingbirds in 
the roadway standing facing each other, close together, that is, a step 
or two apart, with heads and tails held up high and feathers depressed 
so that the legs looked very long and slim. They made dashes at each 
other over and over with tense little darts, the attacked retreating a 
step or two each time with prim, ballet-dancer-like movements. They 
gave the impressions of putting on an act. Finally both flew off, one 
following the other to a tree near at hand." 

In these two descriptions the dance terminated in one case by the 
birds flying off in opposite directions, while in the other one bird fol- 
lowed the other. The writer has witnessed this nonuniformity of 
termination frequently, one occurring about as often as the other. 
Many other written descriptions of this dance are available, but all 
agree so closely that further repetition is without value. 

Tlie long-accepted belief that the dance is a courtship proceeding is 
challenged, however, by Amelia R. Laskey, of Nashville, Tenn. (MS.) , 
who has the following to say about it : "I hope when you write about 
this interesting bird you will mention the 'dance' which bird books 
continue to describe as a part of the courtship behavior. However, in 
the years since I have been using color bands for sight identification 
and have therefore been able to distinguish sexes, this dance has never 
occurred except as a territory boundary -line demonstration, when the 
occupants of adjoining territories are defending their respective do- 
mains. It usually occurs between two males but may take place with 
a male and a female as participants when each is holding fall and 
winter territory. I have never observed a mated pair performing to- 


gether during the mated season or during the winter season if they 
remained together on a conmaon territory. I saw it once in fall be- 
tween a pair that mated for three consecutive seasons but that separated 
and defended individual but adjoining territories in fall and winter. 
The dance in the latter case seemed to be the severing of family ties 
for that season as they did not trespass on each other's territory. In 
spring, when he resumed singing, they used the two areas together." 

Probably such a statement will be productive of argument. Cer- 
tainly it is an original belief, but one held by an observer who has put 
much time and study on the species, as her "Fall and Winter Behavior 
of Mockingbirds" (193G) will testify. Her "territory boundary -line 
demonstration," however, appears never to result in actual combat, 
which might reasonably be expected on some occasions if an act of 
defense was the basis. It is difficult to see exactly how the tactics em- 
ployed could be very effective in a combative sense, while it is easy 
to understand that the display of wings and tail, which accompanies 
the dance, could be an effort to impress a female with the charms of 
the prospective consort. Lack of actual contact in a demonstration 
is not, of course, conclusive by any means of the performance's not be- 
ing a territory defense, but it is suggestive. 

Nesting. — Domestic duties with the mocker are a serious under- 
taking and never marked with the slackness characteristic of some 
avian species. The nest is constructed by both sexes, and usually the 
male works as hard as the female. The materials used vary consider- 
ably, being for the most part small dead twigs. Grass and rootlets 
form the lining. String is frequently used and sometimes skeleton- 
ized leaves. Cotton is often found in the nest, depending on locality. 
The completed nest is a rather bulky affair and lasts well ; old nests of 
two or three seasons past still retain their shape to a surprising degree. 
Some nests are rather small in circumference. 

The site is almost invariably at low elevations, with the great ma- 
jority being 3 to 10 feet above ground. The writer cannot recall any 
nest found by him (and he has seen them literally by the hundred) 
that was over 20 feet high. Nonetheless, the mocker at times breaks 
custom and ascends to elevations greater than 25 feet. E. H. Forbush 
( 1929) , for example, gives the range as "from 1 to 50 feet from ground." 
In Florida, the mocker occasionally builds in clumps of Spanish moss 
( Tillandsia usneoides) , such sites being noted by A. H. Howell ( 1932) . 
The writer has never seen an example of such a site in South Carolina, 
the nest usually occupying a small bush or tree, such as various oaks, 
or other stiff-twigged growth. 

The mocker is strongly partial to human habitation as a nesting site. 
Garden vegetation, vines that climb about porches, shrubbery actually 
against a house, and decorative plantings m the yard are often used. 
It is fairly safe to say that, in parts of the South, the majority of the 


mockingbird population nests in towns or cities. Wild sites along 
open woodland edges, pastures, wood lots, and prairielike stretches, 
which show occasional bushes or small trees, are situations chosen 
away from mankind. 

Nest-building consumes two days at the minimum, but probably not 
many nests are finished in so short a time. This would take pretty 
constant and unremitting toil on the part of the birds, but it certainly 
has been done. Incubation, as given by various authorities, differs by 
several days. Thus, Wilson and Bergtold (quoted by Forbush, 1929) 
give 14 days; F. L. Burns, 10 days. In coastal South Carolina it is 
usually between these two estimates, averaging 11 days. Some specific 
notes furnished by E. B. Chamberlain are typical of the Charleston 
region. He says that "a 4:-f oot-high spiraea bush transplanted to my 
yard on May 7 had a pair of mockingbirds begin building in it next 
morning. Both sexes built. Completed in 3 days (May 10). First 
egg by 8 a. m. May 11, fourth by the same time on May 14. (Thus 
nest built and eggs laid within a week.) Three eggs hatched between 
11 a. m. and 3 p. m. May 25, the fourth between 8 a. m. and 6 p. m. May 
26. On June 2 (8 a. m.) the young were on the edge of the nest or on 
nearby twigs. By 6 p. m. the same day all had left the bush, some to 
return occasionally over a period of 2 or 3 days. Thus in 26 days this 
pair of mockers built their nest and reared a brood to the nest-leaving 

On the south Atlantic coast the mocker usually begins nesting late 
in April or early in May. Three broods are often raised. Early and 
late extremes of course, occur now and then. About Charleston the 
earliest nesting on record concerns a nest that must have been started 
early in March. The writer was then connected with the Charleston 
Museum, and a fully fledged young mockingbird was brought to him 
on April 9, 1928. The bird was at least 10 days old then. If we allow 
a 12-day incubation period and one day for the laying of each of four 
eggs (average), March 15 would be the day the first egg was laid. 
With three days added for nest construction, March 12 results as the 
day the nest was begun. This is a month earlier than is customary 
and probably constitutes the earliest record for the State. Regarding 
late nesting, on September 10, 1910, a young bird just out of the nest 
was seen being fed by a parent in Charleston by A. S. Sloan. This is 
a very late date indeed. 

Nesting in Florida appears to be only slightly earlier than in 
Carolina. A. H. Howell (1932) gives dates of fresh eggs on March 
19 at Sebring and quotes F. M. Weston on a nest at Fensacola in 
which the eggs hatched on March 20. Both of these were begun early 
in March, and no doubt occasional birds nest as early as late February. 
Weston has furnished additional notes (MS.) as follows: "Earliest 


known nesting at Pensacola, Fla. (Escambia County), March 3, 1932. 
First egg of a set of three laid this date. This nesting survived a low 
temperature of 23° F. on March 10 and hatched in due time. Latest 
known nesting at Pensacola, August 13, 1923 (young birds almost 
ready to leave nest). Lowest known nesting site at Pensacola, a nest 
containing three small young in brush pile on May 24, 1928. Rim of 
nest only 18 inches from ground (measured). 

It is not uncommon to find several mockers' nests in fairly close 
proximity. Two and three pairs often nest on an acre of ground. An 
interesting record count is furnished by M. G. Vaiden (MS.) who 
found 14 nests on a tract of 22 acres near Rosedale, Miss. 

A detailed study of a mocker nesting at Dudley, Temi., is given by 
A. V. Goodpasture of Nashville (1908). He summarizes his observa- 
tions in a table as follows : 


Building 2 

Laying 4 

Incubating 10 

Care of young 5 

Thus, from start of nest to flight of young was 21 days, exactly 3 
weeks, being a 5-day variation in the case of the South Carolina birds 
noted by E. B. Chamberlain. In the notes on the Tennessee pair it was 
stated that "both sexes labored diligently." 

Rarely, the mockingbird will use a nesting-box. It is a very uncom- 
mon procedure, however, and the writer has never seen it, but the 
habit must be recognized in any account of its domestic life. Illus- 
trative of it was a nest found and photographed by H. O. Todd, Jr. 
(MS.) , on June 9, 1940, near Murfreesboro, Tenn. The box had been 
erected for bluebirds but was taken by a pair of mockers and contained 
four eggs when found. The box had been placed on top of a fence 
post about 6 feet from the ground, and it was the second time that 
Mr. Todd had seen such a location used. 

Penetrating into the Midwest one finds the mocker listed as an 
"uncommon breeder" by B. F. Stiles, of Monona County, Iowa (MS.) . 
He has seen but two nests in that locality, both of these having been 
found at Sergeant Bluff in 1938. H. M. Holland (MS.) relates his 
experience with the mocker in west-central Illinois for 33 years. He 
states that his earliest acquaintance with it was in 1908, when two 
nests were found in Knox County, which "probably constitute the 
first local breeding records." The next 12 years passed without any 
more nests being found. In the early 30's, however, the birds in- 
creased and several nests were found. The westward spread of the 
mocker apparently dates (as far as his locality is concerned) from 
the late 20's. There is one record already of a bird spending the 
winter, and nesting pairs have become "very noticeable." 


As noted above, the mocker has become an uncommon resident in 
southern New Enghmd and, of course, nests there. 

An instance of bigamy in the mockingbird is reported by Amelia 
R. Laskey, of Nashville, Tenn. (MS.) She states that it is "a sur- 
prising situation in a species where both sexes are strong defenders 
of territory. A male that occupied one portion of our lot since 1936 
had a certain mate from February 1938 until her probable death this 
past December (1939). She remained in his territory with him 
throughout the winter also. In April 1937, while she was incubating 
eggs across the road, he acquired another mate. He was seen carrying 
nesting material for the second nest, 250 feet from the other, and 
very close to our house. The male watched both nests, appearing 
at both just as soon as I went near for observation. The young of 
mate No. 1 were several days old and the eggs of No. 2 were due to 
hatch when the nest was robbed ; the second female then disappeared." 

Arthur T. Wayne (1910) mentions an apparent instance of a mock- 
ingbird mating with a brown thrasher {Toxostoma rufum)^ as both 
species were seen feeding young in the same nest. This strange occur- 
rence was noted in Charleston County, S. C. 

Frederick V. Hebard sends us the following notes on the nesting 
sites chosen by the mockingbird in the Okefinokee : "A decided prefer- 
ence was shown for the holly {Ilex opaca)^ eight nests being found in 
the planted hollies at Camp Cornelia. Four were found in live oaks 
{Quercus mrginiana), although magnolias {Magnolia grandifolia) , 
in which three were found, seem preferred if present. Other nests 
were found in bamboo brier {Smilax sp.) 2; blackberry bushes 2; saw 
palmetto {Serenoa repens) 2; waxmyrtle {Myrica cerifera) 1; water 
oak {Quercus sp.) 1 ; and unknown deciduous bushes 2. The first brood 
is usually raised in May and the second by the end of July. Some birds 
build their nests with incredible rapidity. Layton Burch saw one bird 
start and complete her nest on July 9 ; lay her eggs one a day, July 10, 
11, 12, and 13; and begin incubating on July 15. The first young 
hatched on July 24, and hatching was completed by the next morning. 
The young had all left the nest by August 4. 

Eggs. — [Author's note : The mockingbird lays beautiful eggs, with 
much variation in color and markings. Three to six eggs may consti- 
tute a set, but four or five is the usual number. The prevailing shape 
is ovate, with variations toward short-ovate or elongate-ovate. The 
ground varies from bluish white or greenish white, through various 
shades of bluish green or greenish blue, to some of the richer shades of 
blue or green; "Nile blue" is a common shade. Most of the eggs are 
heavily marked with spots and blotches, more or less evenly dis- 
tributed, of various shades of brown, such as "hazel," "russet," "tawny,"' 
or "cinnamon." One very odd ^gg before me is a spotless, very pale 
blue, except for a dense, solid cap at the larger end of "cinnamon- 


rufous" overlaid with a ring of "hazel." Another is heavily capped 
with "Kaiser brown" over "cinnamon-rufous." 

The measurements of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum 
average 24.3 by 18.3 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 27.4 by 18.8, 25.9 by 19.8, 22.4 by 17.8, and 24.1 by 17.2 milli- 

Young. — The incubation period of the mockingbird is variously 
stated as from 9 to 12 days, but there is very little definite information 
on the subject; it is probably more than 12 days on the average. 

As we found practically nothing in the literature about the nest life 
of tliis well-known bird, which was quite surprising, Mr. Bent asked 
Mr. Frank W. Braund, of Gulfport, Fla., to make some observations 
on this point and send us some information. Mr. Braund interested 
various members of the Gulfport Garden and Bird Club in the subject, 
and they made a number of observations and reported the results. 
Following are some extracts from Mr. Braund's report : "Of the eight 
nests under observation, only two records of the male entering the 
nest to incubate were recorded, and both of these were for a very short 
duration of time. H. R. Myers reports the female leaving the nest 
and observing the male fly from a nearby singing perch to the nest 
and squat in the incubating position. The female reappeared in ap- 
proximately 2 minutes and drove the male from the nest. F. W. 
Braund observed a female leave her nest. The male, who had been 
singing on a nearby perch, flew to the nest and incubated the eggs 
until the female returned 4 minutes later and drove him off. I have, 
however, observed the nest and eggs unoccupied by either bird for 
long periods of time. I do not believe the male makes a practice of 
incubating when the female leaves the nest exposed. 

"Eobert Fredricks observed a nest on his own property. While 
working in the vicinity of the nest, located 8 feet up in a Mexican 
flamevine, both parent birds would appear with grubs in their bills 
and perch on a close by wire. As long as he remained in the vicinity 
of the nest the parents made no effort to feed. Wlien he moved away 
from the nest, one parent would leaVe the perch and feed, the other 
following to feed when the first parent left." 

F. C. Clayton and Mr. Braund both noted that the young were fed 
by both sexes ; the latter reports : "I watched for several hours over a 
period of 10 days through 3x glasses both parents feeding the young 
in the nest. At times one would be at the nest feeding when the sec- 
ond parent would appear with food. This latter parent would 
patiently wait until its mate finished feeding, then fly to the nest to 
deposit its contribution. 

"Robert Fredricks reports observing the parents feeding a green 
and brown larva. F. C. Clayton states that the parents follow the 
rake or the cultivator, picking up crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs, 


and carry them to the nest and feed them to the young. Observing 
through 3x glasses I have seen them feed cutworms and cabbage worms 
at a ratio of six cabbage worms to one cutworm. I have also observed 
them feeding crickets and grasshoppers. The legs are removed from 
the latter two before the insects are carried to the nest. The ampu- 
tation is performed usually on the alighting perch, which in this case 
was a white fence between cottages." 

The length of time that the young remain in the nest was not so 
easily determined, but he obtained two records on this point. Mrs. 
D. M. Morrison gave him the following data from her notes : "Nest 
of mockingbird started March 13, 1931. March 25, 2 eggs; March 
27, 4 eggs ; April 7, first downy young. April 8, 4 downy young ; April 
21, young left the nest." In this case the nest life of the young was 
13 days. 

In 1942, Mr. and Mrs. H. K. Myers and Mr. Braund watched a nest 
closely. "This nest contained four eggs, one of which did not hatch. 
All young hatched between 9 : 00 p. m. on June 6 and 11 : 00 a. m. on 
June 7. The young were dry at this latter time. One of the young 
left the nest at 4 : 00 p. m. on June 20, the second at 5 : 00 p. m. on 
June 20, and the third at 9 : 00 p. m. on June 20. Deep twilight was 
at 9 : 00 p. m., Eastern War Time. Using the 11 : 00 a. m. June 7 
date would establish the nest-life cycle of these young at 13 days 
6 hours, 13 days 6 hours, and 13 days 10 hours, respectively." 

William G. Fargo writes to Mr. Bent from Pass-a-Grille, Fla., 
that a pair of mockingbirds, nesting in his seagrape, began incubating 
on a set of five eggs during the morning of April 7, and that the eggs 
were hatched on the morning of April 19, showing an incubation 
period of about 12 days. He never saw any evidence of more than one 
bird incubating, but Dr. Eugene E. Murphey, of Augusta, Ga., states 
(MS.) that "he has seen the male relieve the female at the incubation 
duties, and take his turn at sitting on the eggs." 

Mr. Braund (MS.) reports the following interesting observation, 
made at the residence of L. A. Rosier in Gulfport: "On April 19, 
1942, the nest with four eggs aYid the parent bird incubating were 
reported by Miss Rosier. We visited the nest daily until April 
24, when a painter appeared to paint the cottage and the birds aban- 
doned the nest. The nest was visited each day to April 30. The 
adult birds were not seen; the eggs were cold. On May 6 Braund 
returned to the nest to collect the abandoned eggs. This revisitation 
disclosed a fifth egg in the nest and either the same pair or another 
pair of mockingbirds about the location. On May 7 the nest con- 
tained six eggs, May 8 seven eggs and a parent bird incubating the 
eggs at 3 : 00 p. m. This nest was visited each day to May 27, a period 
of 19 days, when the parent birds again abandoned the nest. The 


nest was watched each day to May 30, when the eggs were collected 
and blown. All seven eggs were found infertile." 

Plumages. — [Author's note : I have not seen the natal down, but Dr. 
Dwight (1900) desci'ibes it as pale sepia-brown. Unlike most of the 
family, the young mockingbird in juvenal plumage is quite unlike the 
adult. The upper surface is browner, grayish "sepia" rather than 
deep "smoke gray," with indistinct streaks of darker brown on the 
back; the wings and tail are much like those of the adult, but the 
greater wing coverts and secondaries are broadly edged with pale 
"wood brown"; the most conspicuous difference is on the underparts, 
where the chest, breast, sides, and flanks are spotted with dusky. 

A partial post juvenal molt, which involves the contour plumage 
and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings and tail, takes 
place mainly in September. This produces a first winter plumage 
which is practically adult. Adults have a complete postnuptial molt 
at about the same time, but no spring molt; the nuptial plumage is 
acquired by wear and is paler and grayer than the fall plumage.] 

Food. — The diet of the mockingbird is the one phase of its existence 
that does not entirely redound to its credit, at least in the opinion of 
some. Until detailed studies were made of its food there was consider- 
able doubt as to which side of the economic scale was tipped by it. The 
whole question hinged on the bird's fondness for fruit. In the south- 
ern orange groves and vineyards, much complaint from growers of 
citrus and grapes was directed against the mocker, and many took it 
into their own hands to reduce the species about their own particular 
properties. It is to be hoped, however, that the grape grower men- 
tioned by G. C. Taylor (1862) as having killed 1,100 mockingbirds at 
his place near St. Augustine, Fla., is exceptional. This man wa,s said 
to have buried the bodies of that many birds at the roots of his 
grapevines ! 

The report of extensive stomach analyses by Prof. F. E. L. Beal 
(Beal, McAtee, and Kalmbach, 1916) still stands as the most complete 
study on record. Recent attempts to obtain more up-to-date informa- 
tion have proved that there is little, if anything, that can be added to 
it in the files of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Therefore, for a gen- 
eral digest of the food habits over the main part of the range the Beal 
report is summarized as follows : 

Stomachs of 417 specimens were available for study, and these proved 
that 47.81 percent animal matter and 52.19 percent vegetable matter 
were consumed. Most of the animal matter is taken in May, amount- 
ing to 85.44 percent. December and January are the greatest vege- 
table-consuming months, with 86.55 percent each. The proportion 
of beetles and grasshoppers appearing in the insect list shows that the 
bird feeds to a considerable extent on the ground. This habit must 


have been noted by anyone who has watched the bird much, or indeed, 
even casually. Six stomachs contained nine specimens of the cotton- 
boll weevil. Ants form 4.48 percent of the animal food and were found 
in 75 stomachs, another ground-feeding proof. Bees and wasps com- 
posed 3 percent. Though only two stomachs contained that notorious 
pest the chinch bug, Professor Beal says that "any bird which eats this 
pest deserves honorable mention." Grasshoppers composed 14.85 per- 
cent of all animal food and are eaten every month in the year. Cater- 
pillars were a monthly diet except for October and made up 9.48 per- 
cent. Among "a of others" appeared the cotton-leaf wc)rm, 
spiders, crawfish, sowbugs, and snails. Peculiar items were a few 
lizards (3) and a small snake. 

In the vegetable line wild fruit is the item. It is eaten every month 
and totals 42.58 percent, more than four-fifths of all vegetable matter. 
Maximum consumption occurs in October, amounting to 76.91 percent. 
Wild fruit was found in 246 stomachs, and 76 contained nothing else. 
Thirty-five species were identified, and among the most frequently 
eaten were various kinds of holly, smilax, woodbine, blackberry, poke- 
berry, elderberry, mulberry, and sourgum. Domestic fruit comprised 
only 3.35 percent, the bulk of it being either raspberries or blackberries. 
Sinpe both of these grow wild in abundance, the berries eaten by 
mockers "are as apt to be taken from thickets and briar patches as from 
gardens." Figs were found occasionally. A few grapes, which might 
have been wild species, were identified. As long as wild fruits are 
available the mocker will probably never do much harm to cultivated 
varieties. Certainly, the above would indicate that the mocker is not 
a heavy consumer of domestic fruit, as was thought by many. Pro- 
fessor Beal sums up his account by the statement that "there appears 
to be nothing to prove that the Mockingbird eats domestic fruit to an 
injurious extent." 

A. H. Howell (1932) gives some interesting information in regard to 
the mocker's diet in Florida. He adds to the berry list above the 
sumac, poison ivy, Virginia-creeper, red cedar, black alder, and bay- 
berry, by which last is probably meant the waxmyrtle, as it is abundant 
in the Southeast and the bayberry is not. He quotes C. J. Maynard 
(1896), as saying that at Key West mockers eat the fruit of the 
pricklypear cactus (Opuntia) extensively in fall and winter. H. H. 
Bailey (1925) says that the fruit of the wild fig and seagrape 
(Coccolobis) are eaten. He was told by the late Charles Torrey 
Simpson that mockers at Lemon City (near Miami) consume the 
berries of a nightshade {Solanum seaforthianum) and become in- 
toxicated therefrom. D. J. Nicholson found the birds feeding on 
berries of the waxmyrtle {Myrica cerifera) and French mulberry 
{Callicarpa) as well as those of the cabbage palm {Sabal palmetto). 
This last is a frequent food item on the South Carolina coast, where the 


writer has often seen the mocker as well as numerous other avian 
species indulging on it. The ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) 
also often eats the berries of the palmetto ! 

Lester W. Smith (MS.) writes that about Sarasota, Fla., he has 
found mockers eating the pods of the yucca, or Spanish bayonet. They 
"feed on the upper ripe pods while the lower mass, still green, is un- 
touched." Miss Clara Bates (1940), of Fort Pierce, Fla., writes that 
"like all birds, the Mockingbird is partial to the small red pepper [G. 

Behavior. — As individualistic as the mocker is, its actions and be- 
havior are replete with vigor and vivacity. There seems to be no con- 
dition under which the bird does not appear keenly alive. One of 
its marked traits is its alert defense of territory against all comers, 
and in this it rivals the kingbird {Tyrajrinus tyr annus) in attacking 
anything that violates it. At times it seems that a spirit of innate 
pugnacity prompts attacks, for these are by no means limited to the 
nesting season, or even winter territorial defense. Encounters among 
themselves are frequent and as many as six, eight, or even more birds 
will indulge in a battle royal. The writer once saw a group of 12 in 
his yard engaged in a pitched combat of determined proportions, this 
being the largest avian "mass attack" of which he has knowledge. 

The spirit of play appears well developed in the mocker also. It is 
somewhat reminiscent of the duck hawk (Falco 'peregrmus anatwn) 
in this respect. It seems to delight in bedeviling dogs and cats and 
puts either to flight. A neighbor of the writer in Charleston main- 
tained a kennel of hunting dogs for some years, and the mockers of 
the neighborhood would often "dive-bomb" these dogs, plunging upon 
them as they slept, or else they roamed about the enclosure and fre- 
quently drove them to the shelter of the kennels, tails between legs ! 
At times they would actually alight on a dog's back and peck savagely. 
M. G. Vaiden (MS.), of Eosedale, Miss., says that "I have seen the 
mockingbird ride my Belgian shepherd's back more than once, near 
the nesting site, and usually the dogs find some other places to ramble 
than those near a mocker's nest." It often attacks snakes also, and an 
instance of this is related by Mrs. J. L. Alley (1939), of Tavernier, 
Fla. She states that she witnessed an attack on a coachwhip snake 
{Masticophis flagellum) near St. Petersburg in the summer of 1939. 
The bird repeatedly alighted on the head of the snake and pecked it 
viciously. The encounter was watched for a considerable time, the 
snake finally seeking sanctuary under some bushes. 

The flight of the mocker is well sustained but appears somewhat 
labored at times, particularly in heavy winds, probably on account of 
the long tail. It is often the case that, when alighting on the ground, 
where it spends much time, the bird elevates its wings and holds them 
high, after the manner of some of the shorebirds, before folding them. 


Also it will often continue such behavior with a series of opening and 
closing the wings, fanning them gently, running a few feet then 
stopping abruptly with head high. This may be done as many as 
five or six times, the whole performance illustrating the trim, alert 
character of the bird. Wlien two or three are going through such 
actions it reminds one of a sort of avian gymnastic drill. It is thought 
by some that these performances are indulged in to startle unseen 
insects into betraying their whereabouts, but this needs more definite 
study and proof than are now available. 

Though a low-ranging species generally, as regards feeding and 
nesting, the mocker often selects an elevated perch for singing, or even 
resting. Telephone wires, chimney tops, or the top twigs of trees are 
frequently used. To watch one atop a tall yucca, outlined against the 
sky, amid the sand dunes of a barrier beach, or the flaming colors of a 
city garden, is as characteristic a sight as anything could be in a 
southern State. When the bird chooses a chimney for a singing perch, 
the effect of its song coming down into the rooms below is a most strik- 
ing auditory experience, muted as it is by perhaps two or more floors of 
flues. This is often heard on moonlight nights, when it is the more 

The ready willingness of the mocker to attack anything about its 
nest or territory is proverbial. Occasionally, however, it meets a 
match in such species as the loggerhead shrike (which it superficially 
resembles). In the files of the Charleston (S. C) Museum are some 
notes by Francis M. Weston as follows : "March 3, 1907, St. Andrew's 
Parish, S. C. Mockingbird chased by Loggerhead." Again, on March 
17, same year, the same observation was made at 4-Mile House, 
Charleston County. On the other side of the ledger appear such 
notes from the same observer as : "Dec. 24th, 1906, Pee Dee River, S. C. 
Mocker chasing Phoebe" and "Dec. 27th, 1906, Pee Dee River, S. C. 
Mocker chasing Red-bellied Woodpecker." H. R. Sass, of Charles- 
ton, notes that a mocker was "worrying Robins" in his garden on 
January 9, 1906. 

As is the case with several other species the mocker frequently 
attacks its own image in polished, reflecting surfaces. This has been 
commented on by numerous observers. M. G. Vaiden (MS.) writes: 
"In June 1933, my car was parked at the side door of the residence 
when I observed a mockingbird pecking at the highly polished radi- 
ator. I scared the bird away and returned to the house; the bird 
came back and again started pecking and occasionally striking with 
wings, whereupon I concluded that it was fighting its shadow (re- 
flection) in the radiator. This continued for an hour or more until 
I moved the car. The next day I noticed the bird doing the same 


thing and covered the radiator with a towel to prevent any possible 
damage to the mocker." 

A friend of the writer had much the same experience near George- 
town, S. C, when a mocker made persistent attacks on its own image 
in the surface of a car's hubcap. The owner of the car finally cov- 
ered the cap with moss when he parked it ! A mockingbird living 
in the yard of the writer fought itself literally for days in the 
window of the cellar, which was almost on a level with the ground. 
This is almost certainly a territorial defense action, as the image 
is taken by the bird for an intruder on its domain and treated 

The immense popularity of the mocker throughout its range has 
resulted in its being chosen as State bird by no less than five 
commonwealths ! 

Voice. — There is no possibility of doubt that the vocal attain- 
ments of the mockingbird are its primary characteristic. Its voice 
overshadows its every other trait, habit, and even appearance. Rec- 
ognition of it is evident in both the common and the scientific name 
of the species, and neither could be more appropriate. Though its 
amazing powers of imitation were not known to Linnaeus except 
second-hand, his designation of Mimus folyglottos as its name was 
well chosen, for as a "many-tongued mimic" the mockingbird stands 
alone. Catesby's name of "Mock-bird" is practically the same as 
its present-day appellation. Some years ago Herbert R. Sass, of 
Charleston, S. C, referred to the mockingbird in one of his inimi- 
table nature articles as "Mimus the Matchless," and it has always 
seemed to this writer that no more descriptive adjective could be 
used in connection with it. Truly, that is the word for the mocker. 
. . . matchless! 

It is evident, of course, that there are remarkable performers 
among the so-called song birds of this country, and each has enthusi- 
astic partisans. However, whatever can be said about each one of 
them can be said of the mockingbird, plus. Always plus, because if 
given the opportunity, the mocker can deliver the song of any other 
bird as well as the species itself, plus the fact that it has a wonder- 
fully beautiful song of its own ! 

Ample proofs that the writer is not hopelessly biased in his state* 
ments regarding the mocker's vocal ability are numerous. Illustra* 
tive of what others think are quotations that follow. Baird, Brewer, 
and Ridgway (1874) say: 

"The vocal powers of the Mockingbird exceed, both in their imi- 
tative notes and natural song, those of any other species. Their 
voice is full, strong and musical, and capable of an almost endless 

758066 — 48 21 


variation in modulation. * * * In force and sweetness the Mock- 
ing bird will often improve upon the original." A. H. Howell 
(1932) states that "the song of the Mocker is easily the most promi- 
nent and best loved of southern bird voices." 

John Burroughs (1895) is less qualified in his approbation than 
the conservative Howell and joins with Ridgway in enthusiastic praise. 
He termed the mocker "Our nightingale" and goes on to say that it 
is "famed mostly for its powers of mimicry, which are truly wonderful, 
enabling the bird to exactly reproduce and even improve upon the 
notes of almost every other species of songster. * * * Here is the 
lark and the nightingale in one." 

In connection with the reference to the nightingale, probably the 
most famous of Old World songsters, an amusing story is even yet 
related in Florida connected with this species and the mocker. It 
seems that Edward Bok, who created the well-known Singing Tower 
near Lake Wales, had several nightingales imported and confined 
there in cages. When the strangers had settled down and had begun 
to voice their famous song abroad across the orange groves, great 
satisfaction was felt, of course. Before long, however, nightingale 
songs were heard all over the surrounding territory! Here, there, 
and yonder the foreign strains were echoing, but all the captives 
remained in their cages. The mockingbirds of the area had taken 
charge and were broadcasting nightingale melodies over the country- 
side! It is said that the European performers were put to silence 
and soon refused to sing at all. Particularly apropos of this is R. W. 
Shufeldt's symposium on the mockingbird in Newton's "Dictionary 
of Birds," for he says there : "I believe were he successfully introduced 
into those countries where the Nightingale flourishes, that princely 
performer might some day wince as he was obliged to listen to his 
own most powerful strains poured forth * * * ]yj i\^[g king of 
feathered mockers." It has happened. 

The mocker begins its performance at an early age. Amelia R. 
Laskey (MS.) says that they start "when very young but these songs 
are very soft-toned, 'whisper' songs that cannot be heard unless one 
is very close to the performer. Four young birds under observation 
started singing at the following ages : 30 days, 34, 57, and 73 days." 
This whisper song is also indulged in by the adult and is an exquisite 
thing — soft, appealing, and infinitely tender in its cadences. 

Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) says that "the song is long continued, 
consisting of phrases with pauses between them. The mocker differs 
from the catbird and the brown thrasher in a tendency to repeat a 
phrase four or five more times in succession, in a richer quality, in 
greater frequency of singing, tendency to sing at night, especially 
when moonlight * * * frequently in fall * * * frequently 
on the wing. The greatest number of different phi-ases I have recorded 


from one bird is 30, but I have no doubt that it uses many more than 

That gifted ornithological writer Edward H. Forbush (1929), 
speaking as a New Englander, gives the mockingbird one of the finest 
of tributes when he says that "the Mockingbird stands unrivaled. He 
is the king of song. * * * He equals and even excels the whole 
feathered choir. He improves upon most of the notes that he re- 
produces, adding also to his varied repertoire the crowing of chanti- 
cleer, the cackling of the hen, the barking of the house dog, the squeak- 
ing of the unoiled wheelbarrow, the postman's whistle. * * * He 
even imitates man's musical inventions." 

T. Gilbert Pearson (1909) writes that he has "sometimes thought 
that they must be conscious of the power of their numbers. * * * 
The bird revels in the glory of his vocal strength, and shouts his ring- 
ing challenge to the trees, the flowers, the very sky itself. * * * 
However, it is at night that the Mockingbird is at his best. If he 
is the music-prince of the grove by day, he is the song-king of the lawn 
on moonlight nights." 

It is not surprising that, in such a species, particular individuals 
have becom^e known for particular powers of rendition and imitation. 
One of these is mentioned by Frank M. Chapman (1912), a specimen 
heard by Leverett M. Loomis near Chester, S. C. This mocker imitated 
32 different birds in a space of 10 minutes. Of it Chapman says, 
"This was a phenomenal performance, one I have never heard ap- 
proached, for in my experience many Mockingbirds have no notes 
besides their own, and good mockers are exceptional." In an ob- 
server and student of the wide knowledge and experience of Dr. 
Chapman, this seems a strange statement. The writer, during a 
lifetime with the mocker, would observe that there is little, if any 
difference in the individual powers of this bird. One is as capable as 
another. It would be difficult to assign any reason why this should 
not be the case. Why would one be especially gifted and another not ? 

As remarkable as was the performance of the South Carolina speci- 
men, however, its record has been eclipsed since Dr. Chapman gave 
it prominence. E. H. Forbush (1929) quotes W. L. Dawson as saying 
that the latter heard a mockingbird change his tune 87 times in 7 rain- 
utes and that he was able to recognize 58 of the imitations given ! For- 
bush had such unqualified belief in the mocker's powers that he says, 
"Perhaps there is no song-bird * * * that the Mockingbird can- 
not imitate to perfection." 

Despite all the foregoing, it would be reprehensible not to mention 
that amazing bird that has come to be known as the Arnold Arbore- 
tum Mocker, of Boston. It has been written of at length and in great 
detail by C. L. Whittle (1922). In summarizing its astounding vocal 


powers, it need only be said that Mr. Whittle lists its imitations of 39 
bird songs, 50 bird calls, and the notes of a frog and a cricket! 
A. V. Goodpasture, of Nashville, Tenn. ( 1908) , says : 

The most obvious charms of his song, however, are the infinite variety and 
range of his round, full, distinct notes, and the rapidity and enthusiasm with 
which he trills his marvelous medley. * * * Four observations of his song, 
taken at different times, will convey some idea of his performance: (1) In ten 
minutes he chanjied his song of from one to four notes, forty-six times, and re- 
peated each from one to nine times — an average of 3.41 times. (2) In three 
minutes he changed his song twenty-eiglit times, repeated each from one to nine 
times — average four times. (3) In one minute he changed thirteen times, re- 
peated from one to nine times — average 6.3 times. (4) In ten minutes he 
changed 137 times, repeated from one to twelve times — average 3.18 times. 

The call notes of the mockingbird have none of the melodious qual- 
ity of its song; indeed the tone is quite the opposite. There is a grat- 
ing harshness about them more suggestive of the bird's fighting tem- 
per than of any quality of musical sweetness. Rendered into words 
(never satisfactory, of course) the call note has been described as "a 
harsh, grating 'chair' " by R. Hoffmann ; a "chuck" or "chick" and a 
harsh, scolding note (almost veery-like) "whee-e-e" by J. A. Farley. 
A. H. Howell calls it a "harsh chuck." 

There has doubtless been speculation on the ability of memory on 
the part of the mocker in reproducing the songs of other birds. Since 
there is very little in the literature concerning it, the following notes 
from F. M. Weston (MS.) are of extraordinary interest : 

"March, 1912, Charleston, S. C. Mockingbird heard giving 'tucky- 
tuck' call of summer tanager {Piranga rubra), then tanager song, 
then call again, showing definite association of those two sounds. 
Tanager had not yet arrived in spring migration, and recollection was 
at least of 6 months' duration. 

"May 25, 1925, Pensacola, Fla. A mockingbird that has been sing- 
ing in the neighborhood all spring imitates the full song of the field 
sparrow {^Spizella pusilla) more than that of any other species. He is 
so persistent about it that I can recognize him by that feature of his 
performance. During my 10 years' residence here, I have yet to hear 
the song of the field sparrow in this region. That particular mocking- 
bird has spent some earlier period of his life in some other region, and 
his memory is at least eight months long." 

Field marks. — Even its most ardent admirers could hardly call the 
mockingbird handsome. It is trim, alert, and clean-cut but not strik- 
ing in plumage and is quite plain in appearance. At rest, the long tail 
is diagnostic, and the conspicuous white wing patches show to advan- 
tage in flight and can also be seen while the bird is perched. There is 
a decided general resemblance to the loggerhead shrike {Lanius ludo- 
vicianus), which had led to the latter's being known in some localities 
as the "French mockingbird." However, the mocker is a darker gray 


and lacks the sharply contrasting pattern of the loggerhead, as well as 
the black Ime through the eye. 

Albinism is not rare in mockingbirds, and the writer has seen speci- 
mens ranging from totality to only a few feathers in wings or tail. 
A totally albino bird was reported to the writer on May 29, 1940, as 
occurring in the grounds of a resident of a Charleston (S. C.) suburb 
for several clays. Two or three specimens were brought into the 
Charleston Museum during the years the writer was connected with 
tliat institution, and the late A. T. Wayne had at least one specimen 
in his collection. 

Enemies. — The mockingbird is probably as free from natural ene- 
mies as any passerine bird could be. Because of its pugnacious tend- 
encies it, like the kingbird {Tyrannus tyrannus), takes the offensive 
rather than the defensive against all avian enemies, although, of 
course, it would be and sometimes doubtless is a victim of such preda- 
tory species as the accipitrine hawks. 

In regard to man it is fortunate in holding a high place in public 
sentiment and affection. If a census could be taken regarding the bird 
most beloved by the public generally throughout the entire country, 
the result would probably be a close race between the mockingbird 
and the robin. Even the small boy, who must be classed as a predatory 
animal of dangerous proportions at one stage of his development, 
usually directs his slingshot, airgun, or .22 rifle at some other avian 
target than this general favorite. 

Years ago the mocker figured largely as a cage bird in many parts 
of the South at least, but this practice is now all but nonexistent except 
in the most remote regions where the laws governing it are not well 
known. The bird's attacks on fruit orchards and groves are not serious, 
and few are done away with on such accounts. 

Dr. Friedmann (1934) cites only two cases in which the mocking- 
bird has been imposed upon by the cowbird. 

E. B. Chamberlain (MS.) records a very interesting occurrence that 
took place in the yard of his residence near Charleston, S. C. He had 
been watching the nest of a mockingbird in a small oak, where it was 
built near the end of a limb and only 4 feet from the ground. On the 
afternoon of July 7, 1942, it held four pinfeathered young. As he 
came into the yard that afternoon, a Cooper's hawk rose from the 
nest, bearing one of the young in its claws. It stopped in a larger 
oak nearby but escaped out of the far side before it could be shot. 
An hour later there was an outcry from the mockers and on rushing 
out. Chamberlain saw the hawk making away with a second youngster. 
I "cut loose," he says, "just for the noise effect as I had no chance to 
hit the hawk." The next day passed without a repeat visit from 
the hawk, but on the following day (9th) "again I met the spectacle of 
the hawk leaving the nest, the third young in its talons." The adult 


mockers gave chase to the marauder as it flew out over the adjacent 
marshes. While at the supper table that same evening, at 7 :45 p. m., 
Chamberlain witnessed the return of the hawk and the departure of the 
last of the young by "the same well worn route." He then closed the 
account with the statement that "I was interested to note that by 8 : 15 
p. m. the adult male (?) mocker had recovered enough to burst into 
song on a nearby perch. Perhaps he had forgotten the tragedy 


Range. — The United States and southern Canada, to southern Mex- 
ico and the West Indies: generally nonmigratory. 

The mockingbird occurs with some regularity, generally breeding, 
north to northern California (Corning and Chico) ; southeastern 
Oregon (an isolated colony in the Blitzen Valley, Harney County) ; 
southern Nevada (Oasis Valley and Pahranagat Valley) ; southern 
Utah (St. George and Zion National Park ; occasional or local north to 
Great Salt Lake and the Uinta Basin) ; southern and eastern Colorado 
(Grand Junction, Salida, Denver, and Loveland) ; southeastern Wyo- 
ming (Laramie and Douglas) ; Nebraska (Sioux County, rare, Gree- 
ley, and Omaha) ; Iowa (Sioux City and Grinnell) ; northern Illinois 
(Chicago, rare) ; northern Indiana (Elkhart and Fort Wayne) ; 
northern Ohio (Toledo, Sandusky, and Stanhope) ; southwestern and 
southeastern Pennsylvania (Hickory, Finleyville, Harrisburg, and 
Philadelphia) ; central New Jersey (Barnegat) ; and sporadically to 
central New York, Massachusetts, and southern Maine. East to the 
Atlantic coast of the United States, the Bahamas (Abaco and Inagua 
Islands) ; the Greater Antilles to the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and 
St. Croix). South to the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) ; Hispaniola 
(Ciudad Trujillo) ; Jamaica (Port Koyal) ; Grand Cayman; Cuba 
(Isle of Pines) ; the Gulf coast of the United States and Mexico to 
Veracruz (Orizaba) ; and southern Oaxaca (Santa Efigenia). West 
to Oaxaca (Santa Efigenia and Oaxaca) ; Guerrero (Acapulco) ; the 
Pacific coast of Mexico and throughout Baja California (Cape San 
Lucas, Santa Margarita, and Ensenada; accidental on Guadalupe 
Island) ; and the coast of California (including the Santa Barbara 
Islands) to the San Francisco Bay region and the Sacramento Valley 
(Willows and Corning). 

The above range is for the species as a whole, of which two sub- 
species or geographic races are recognized in the United States. The 
eastern mockingbird {M. p. polyglottos) occurs in the northern 
Bahama Islands and the eastern United States, west to the edge of 
the Plains in eastern Nebraska and Kansas ; the western mockingbird 
{M. p. leucopterus) is found from western Nebraska and Kansas west- 
ward and south to Baja California and Oaxaca. 


Since the law was passed prohibiting the caging of native birds, 
the mockingbird has increased in numbers and has pushed its normal 
range northward. There are also many records of occurrence (often 
in winter) and of breeding far north of what may be considered the 
normal range. Some of these records may belong to the "casual" 
list, but it is difficult to separate them. During the winter of 1922 
one appeared at Ferndale, Humboldt County, Calif., where it re- 
mained for several weeks. There are two records for Vancouver 
Island, British Columbia; one observed at Port Alberni on June 7, 
1931, and a specimen collected at Duncan, on January 20, 1940. Ap- 
parently the only record for Alberta is of a pair that nested at Dids- 
bury in June 1928. One was observed at Piapot, southwestern Sas- 
katchewan, on May 2, 1927, and a specimen was collected at Eastend 
on June 4, 1928. In 1934 a nest was reported 35 miles south of Regina, 
and on May 7, 1936, one was observed in Regina. In Manitoba, the 
first report was from Hillside Beach, in May 1928, and one was ob- 
served from November 15, 1939, to January 2, 1940, near Winnipeg. 
The mockingbird has nested in two localities in Ontario — at Point 
Pelee in 1909 and at Nanticoke in 1924 — besides which there are a 
number of records of its occurrence at all times of the year as far 
north as Ottawa and at Moose Factory on June 4, 1928. It was re- 
corded at Gaspe, Quebec, on November 5, 1938, and a specimen was 
taken on Anticosti Island on August 8, 1902. Three specimens have 
been collected at Grand Manan, New Brunswick, all in fall and winter. 
A specimen was taken on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, on September 
3, 1902. Casual records previous to 1900 are usually open to question 
as being possibly escaped cage birds. 

In some sections the mockingbird appears to be migratory, but 
there does not seem to be any definite and regular migration. The 
movements of mockingbirds seem to be local or individual. Banding 
returns indicate that some individuals travel considerable distances. 

Introduction. — In 1893, six pairs of eastern mockingbirds were lib- 
erated in Bermuda, and some were still to be found there in 1914. 

Egg dates. — Arizona : 52 records, April 12 to August 2 ; 26 records, 
May 18 to June 15, indicating the height of the season. 

California: 94 records, February 16 to September 2; 50 records, 
April 18 to May 21. 

Florida : 56 records, March 25 to August 12 ; 28 records, April 24 
to May 21. 

Georgia: 26 records, April 14 to July 9; 16 records. May 10 to 
June 6. 

Oklahoma : 11 records, May 2 to June 23. 

Texas : 94 records, March 10 to July 20 ; 48 records. May 2 to 27. 




PlATES 59, 60 


The western mockingbird is a larger bird than its eastern relative, 
with a relatively shorter tail ; its general coloration is paler, with the 
underparts more washed with buffy ; the white at the bases of the pri- 
maries is more extended and the white tips of the wing coverts are 
broader; and the wing feathers are tipped with white; leucopterus is 
an appropriate name. It was long considered to be a bird of the south- 
western States and Mexico, but either it has extended its range or we 
have extended our knowledge of its distribution during recent years. 
Even the 1931 Check-list seems to limit its northward range to cen- 
tral California, southern Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska. 
Laurence B. Potter, of Eastend, Saskatchewan, writes to me: "In 
Canada generally, the mockingbird is considered a rare visitant any- 
where. This fact makes all the more remarkable the irruption of 
mockingbirds into the prairie provinces, with nesting records in Al- 
berta and Saskatchewan. The first bird was noted in 1927, the last 
about 1937, a period of about ten years. Since then mockingbirds 
have appeared on Vancouver Island. P. A. Taverner (1934) says 
that the western mockingbird is probably the one that has wandered 
to southern British Columbia, but that "the subspecific identity of the 
prairie occurrences is doubtful." 

The western mockingbird is a more or less permanent resident in 
the hot Lower Sonoran valleys of the southwestern States, but it re- 
tires in winter from the northern portions of its range and from the 
foothills farther south, where it is common up to 5,000 feet in summer. 
John G. Tyler (1913) says of its haunts in the Fresno region of Cali- 
fornia, which are typical : "The writer has observed Mockingbirds in 
a small orchard surrounding a ranch house, far out on the plains near 
Wheatville, among the tangle of swamp growths below Riverdale, 
and along one or two of the creeks that lead down from the foothills ; 
but the center of their abundance seems to be the most highly culti- 
vated and thickly settled tracts in the valley. Orchards, hedgerows, 
fig-bordered vineyards, and shade trees around dwellings are favorite 
haunts of this famous vocalist; and from the tops of windmills, the 
topmost branches of trees, or the roofs of buildings, they pour forth 
their wonderful repertoire of song." And Ralph Hoffmann (1927) 
adds : "It is one of the surprises of a bird student on his first visit to 
the Coast to see Mockingbirds singing from the chimneys of a hotel, 
flirting their long tails on the curbing of city streets or pursuing one 
another in and out of city traffic. All they ask are yards about the 


houses, a bit of lawn to feed on and vines or thick bushes in which to 

Territory. — Harold and Josephine R. Michener (1935) made an 
intensive study of the territorial behavior of a number of western 
mockingbirds in the immediate vicinity of their home in Pasadena, 
Calif., covering a period of over a year, from January 1, 1933, to 
February 15, 1934. Their interesting report covers 44 pages in The 
Condor, to which the reader is referred, for space will permit the in- 
clusion of only a few extracts here. The birds were trapped and 
marked with colored bands, for identification. The area under ob- 
servation is a lot, 100 by 317 feet, within a mile of the center of Pasa- 
dena and surrounded by the city on all sides. 

The territories occupied by the five mated pairs varied from ap- 
proximately 3,750 to 60,000 square feet in an environment that was 
especially favorable ; probably average territories elsewhere are much 
larger. They think that the birds have two general types of terri- 
tories, summer territories and winter territories ; 

The summer and winter territories of an individual or a pair may or may not 
be identical areas. The summer territory is the family home, held and defended 
by the male and occupied solely by him until the female joins him, unless his mate 
of the previous year has remained with him. 

The female rarely takes part in the defense of the summer territory. 

The winter territory centers about the food supply and is defended by both the 
male and the female, in case the pair remain together, or by the lone male or 
female occupant. * * * The defense of the winter territories seems much 
more vigorous than that of the summer territories. This may be because the 
invaders in the winter are much more numerous than in summer and because the 
territory holder has many other things to do in the summer while in winter the 
defense of the food supply is the only important activity. 

The so-called "dance," so well described under the courtship of the 
eastern mockingbird, and the display, which I refer to below, may 
both be used as part of the boundary defense demonstration, as 
strongly suggested by Mrs. Laskey (MS.). I doubt if it is often nec- 
essary for the birds to enter into actual physical combat ; the demon- 
stration is generally sufficient warning to the trespasser. Even the 
song may be all that is necessary. 

Courtship. — On April 21, 1929, 1 saw what I believe was a courtship 
display. A mockingbird, presumably a male, was running along on 
our lawn at Pasadena, flirting his spread tail up and down, making a 
soft cooing sound and occasionally lifting both his wings high above 
his back and spreading them so as to show the conspicuous white areas. 

At San Diego, on June 21, 1929, Frank F. Gander (1931) saw a 
pair of western mockingbirds in copulation. The female was feeding 
on the ground under some shrubbery. He says : 

The male was singing from the top of a tall flagpole nearby. Suddenly he 
dropped from his perch. In full song, he shot down into the shrubbery about 


15 feet beyond the female. As he sped past her, the female crouched a little and 
began to quiver her wings. She continued in this as the male, singing excitedly 
and with tail and wings half spread, advanced toward her with dancing steps. 
As he neared her his excitement grew but his approach was stately and un- 
hurried. As he came near he seemed to be floating along just over the ground 
and he rose gradually and settled upon her back. All this time he had been pour- 
ing forth impassioned melody. The act lasted several seconds and was accom- 
panied by much fluttering of wings. 

Nesting. — The western mockingbird will build its nest in almost any 
of the many varieties of bushes, small trees, or tangles of vines found 
within its habitat, including such western plants as sagebushes, 
pricklypear cactus, or the different chollas. Dense shrubbery or the 
thickly leaved branches of trees are preferred. The nest may be 
placed anywhere from 1 foot to 40 feet above ground, though most of 
them are 6 feet up or less. George F. Simmons (1925) says that, in 
Texas, the nests are sometimes placed in a hollow in the top of a 
"cedar fence post, in brush piles, on stumps, or in corners of rail 
fences." F. W. Braund has sent me the data for seven nests in his 
collection; one was in a vine in an open field, three were in bushes, 
and three were in chollas ; the heights varied from 3 to 5 feet above 
ground. The foundation of the nest is made of coarse and fine twigs, 
often thorny, mixed with coarse grasses and weed stems; sometimes 
bits of rags or cotton, string, paper, or other trash are added. The 
lining usually consists of fine grasses, but sometimes fine rootlets, 
horsehair, or plant down is used. 

Eggs. — The eggs of this western race are indistinguishable in every 
way from those of the eastern mockingbird, showing the same range 
of beautiful variations. The measurements of 50 eggs in the United 
States National Museum average 24.6 by 18.6 millimeters; the eggs 
showing the four extremes measure 27.4 by 19.8, 21.8 by 17.8, and 
23.4 by 17.3 millimeters. 

Young. — The period of incubation is said to be 10 to 14 days; 
probably the latter figure is approximately correct. The young are 
said to remain in the nest 9 to 12 days ; perhaps nearly 2 weeks would 
be the normal time, if the young are not disturbed. Probably in- 
cubation is shared by both sexes, but the literature seems to be very 
silent on this point and on the care and development of the young. 
Two broods are regularly raised in a season, and rarely three. 

As to the care and feeding of the young, Mrs. Wheelock (1904) gives 
us the only account I can find ; she writes : 

Both male and female Mockers flit through the green like silent shadows 
hunting insects under the leaves, earthworms on the ground, or berries in the 
garden. These are all swallowed first and delivered to the infant Mockers by 
regurgitation for the first few days, or until the babies' eyes open. After that, 
the number of earthworms, butterfiies, etc. devoured by those nestlings rivals 
the story of the young robins who in 12 hours ate 40 percent more than their 
own weight. There seems to be no limit to their appetite and scarcely any to 


their capacity. Even after they leave the nest and are nearly as large as the 
adults, they follow the overworked father about, begging with quivering wings. 

Food. — Professor Beal (1907) says: "No serious complaints of the 
bird's depredations in this State [California] have yet been made, 
but this perhaps is due to the fact that mocking birds are rare in 
sections where cherries and the smaller deciduous fruits are grown. 
Where mockers are most abundant, citrus fruits are the principal crop 
and the birds do not appear to molest them." 

He examined 33 stomachs, taken between July 18 and August 18, 
which contained 23 percent of animal matter and 77 percent of vege- 
table. Of the animal food, "beetles of several families formed a little 
less than 1 percent. Hymenoptera, largely ants, were eaten to the 
extent of somewhat more than 10 percent. Grasshoppers constituted 
the largest item of animal food, and amounted to 11 percent of the 
whole. A few caterpillars and spiders made up the other 1 percent 
of the animal food." Most of the vegetable food was fruit, some of 
it wild, "but blackberries or raspberries, grapes, and figs were found 
in many stomachs. Many of the birds were taken in orchards and 
gardens, and some were shot in the very act of pilfering blackberries. 
* * * The only species of wild fruits that were identified were 
elderberries, which were found in a few stomachs." Seeds of poison 
oak were conspicuous; one stomach was entirely filled with them. 
Nineteen other stomachs were examined, taken in nine other months ; 
they contained much similar material. One, taken in March, contained 
a lizard; three, taken in September, contained "a few wasps"; the 
only useful insect eaten was a carabid beetle. 

Robert S. Woods has sent me a photograph of a mocker feeding 
on the fruit of the pricklypear cactus {Opuntia). Mockers will come 
freely to feeding stations that are supplied with cultivated or wild 
fruits and berries. They also eat the berries of the peppertree. 

Voice. — The behavior and voice of the western mockingbird are 
so similar to these attributes of its gifted eastern relative that it seems 
sufficient to say that it is just as marvelous a singer, equally versatile, 
and just as welcome a visitor to town and rural gardens. Many ob- 
servers have referred to its versatility as a mimic. Mr. Simmons ( 1925 ) 
says that, in Texas, it "imitates the excited twittle of the Scissor-tailed 
Flycatcher, the song of the Wood Thrush, calls of the Roadrunner, 
the Southern Blue Jay, the Sennett Titmouse, the Chuck- will's-widow, 
the Howell Nighthawk, and countless others, even the Migrant Shrike, 
the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and some of the smaller warblers ; an in- 
dividual bird frequently has as many as three dozen imitated songs. 
Utters each imitation two or three times, and then takes up another, 
which it treats in the same way ; frequently such repetition is the only 
thing that distinguishes the imitation from the song mimicked." 

Mr. Sennett (1878) several times heard the screeching call of the 


chachalaca coming from a mocker. Mrs. Bailey (1928) adds the killy- 
k'llly of the sparrow hawk, the jia-coh of Mearns's woodpecker, and the 
notes of the pinyon and Woodhouse's jays, the western kingbirds, the 
green-tailed towhee and the Kocky Mountain nuthatch. Mrs. Nice 
(1931) includes the yap of the English sparrow, the scold of the robin, 
the chebec of the least flycatcher, and the notes of the scaled quail, 
lark sparrow, canyon towhee, Bullock's oriole, western kingbird, and 
house iinch. In addition to those named above, C. H. Richardson, Jr. 
(1906), lists the following imitations heard in the vicinity of Pasa- 
dena: Western gull, killdeer, valley partridge, sparrow hawk, Cali- 
fornia woodpecker, red-shafter flicker, ash-throated flycatcher. Say's 
and black phoebes, western wood pewee, western flycatcher, California 
jay, western meadowlark, Arizona hooded oriole, Bullock oriole, 
Brewer's blackbird, San Diego song sparrow, black-headed grosbeak, 
western tanager, purple martin, cliff swallow, phainopepla, California 
shrike, western gnatcatcher, dwarf hermit thrush, and western robin. 
Following are some of the Micheners' (1935) remarks on the songs : 

The males have a set of summer songs and a set of winter songs and some 
songs that seem to be the same in both summer and winter. * * * As prob- 
ably the first indication of revival of activity after the molt, about the middle 
of September, the males at mid-day from low thick bushes sing a soft, faint, 
varied and beautiful song having no imitations in it. * * * The females 
are quiet in the summer season. They join in the hew-hew notes and the rasping 
notes of the pair in early summer. Beginning about mid-September, as the 
depression of the molt wears away, the females sing a soft, faint song which can 
scarcely be distinguished from the song of the immatures. * * * The young 
birds sing a faint, soft song quite without imitations of other bird songs but 
distinctly a mockingbird song. They seem absorbed in the production of song 
and sing, usually at mid-day, for several days and then disappear. While 
singing the birds perch in low, thick shrubbery, mounting higher as the days 
go by but never do they sing from tree tops or other such high perches. At 
least some individuals sing before, during, and after the molt. 

Enemies. — There seems to be no information available on the nat- 
ural enemies of the western mockingbird, which are probably as 
numerous as those of other passerine birds. It has served as host for 
the eggs of the dwarf cowbird on several occasions, according to Dr. 
Friedmann (1934). 


Plates 61-65 


The catbird is a stable species; throughout its extensive nesting 
range from British Columbia to Quebec and south to the Gulf States 
and the Bermuda Islands not a single subspecies has been recognized. 


Outram Bangs and Thomas S. Bradlee (1901) described the smaller 
Bermuda birds, which have narrow and shorter tail feathers and 
primaries as hermudianus^ but this species was never accepted by the 
A. O. U. committee on nomenclature. 

It is ahnost universally known as the catbird, but in the south this 
recognized singer and mimic is sometimes locally called the black 
mockingbird, and in Bermuda where there are no resident Icteridae 
the natives have named it the blackbird. The name catbird though 
a misnomer is destined to remain. It probably originated from 
some casual listener who gave ear only to the short, grating, catlike 
call and did not hear or was not impressed by its pleasing and varied 
song. As a boy the name prejudiced me against this bird until I 
learned to know its true worth and the high place among our native 
birds it now holds in my estimation. 

Though modestly colored the catbird is exquisitely tailored and 
always presents a trim appearance. He is intelligent and friendly 
and possesses a lively and restless temperament, ever ready to be help- 
ful to others of its kind in trouble of any sort, often coming to the aid 
of distracted parents in the defense of their homes and little ones. 
He is very playful, full of droll pranks and quaint performances. He 
is also an accomplished singer as well as a mimic and possesses many 
other admirable qualities that endear him to the bird lover who has 
learned to know his interesting personality. 

Sp^'ing. — In Florida the catbird is an abundant migrant, but it is 
also a fairly common winter resident and a few breed in the central 
and northern parts of the State. According to A. H. Howell (1932) , 
the spring migration begins very early, as indicated by the record of 
25 catbirds seen flying north at Sombrero Key on the night of January 
26. Two others were seen there on January 28. However, the major- 
ity of the migrants pass through the State about the middle of April, 
with belated stragglers migrating as late as the first two weeks of May. 
In Alabama the catbirds appear as migrants at various parts of the 
State from April 6 to April 19. Likewise in Louisiana and Texas the 
mass of catbird migrants passes through during the first weeks of 
April. They reach Pennsylvania and Ohio about April 27. At Cape 
May, N. J., the average date of 18 years of first arrival records made 
by Witmer Stone ( 1937) is April 25. The average date of first arrivals 
at Minneapolis, Minn. (T. S. Roberts, 1932), is May 5, the earliest 
April 27, 1921. In New York, New England, and southern Canada 
the catbirds may be expected the first week of May. 

In general the great bulk of migrants arrive about a week after the 
first birds of the season are seen. The migratory wave of catbirds re- 
quires about a month in traveling from the southern part of the United 
States to the northern and western section of their nesting range. 

The spring migration northward is regular, and the date of arrival 


varies but little from year to year. Even during times of unseason- 
ably cold weather the catbird does not seem to halt its movements to 
await for warmer days but usually proceeds on schedule. 

The catbird travels chiefly at night and is so quiet that its great 
flights are seldom detected, but on arrival at their breeding grounds 
their presence is announced by their delightful songs. Each spring 
during the first week of May I am awakened by the first catbird 
song from a friendly individual who sings from his perch in the 
catalpa tree just outside my window. He seems eager to let us and 
everyone else in the neighborhood know that he is here for the season. 
He also informs his neighbors that the syringa bushes, lilacs, and 
arborvitae about the catalpa tree are his territory and that he is ready 
to challenge any intruder. 

Courtshi'p. — After a few days the female arrives and an animated 
courtship begins. This is carried on largely in the seclusion of the 
dense shrubbery and evergreens which cover much of the backyard. 
Often they m^y be seen dashing in and out of the thick cover, the 
male in hot pursuit of his elusive mate. Frequently he pauses for 
an outpouring of song, with his plumage raised and tail lowered 
he bows with his bill toward his perch. He slides about in a curious 
manner, or struts in a fantastic fashion with his wings lowered and 
tail erected, and sometimes he wheels about displaying the only bit 
of color he possesses: the contrasting chestnut patch on his under 
tail coverts. After a few days of arduous courtship nest-building be- 
gins, with the song period of the male reaching its climax. He sings 
almost continuously during the early morning and evening hours and 
sometimes well into the night. As he sings he seems to be well 
aware that he is an accomplished and versatile vocalist. He gives a 
distinct impression of a bird that likes to show off; he wishes to be 
heard and seen by everyone. His self-consciousness and vanity at 
such times are most amusing. Not only does the male sing vigor- 
ously but also he is ever on the alert to protect his territory against 
all intruders whether it be the gray squirrel that comes to the feeding 
shelf nearby or the Baltimore oriole that builds its nest on a pendent 
limb of the tall elm bordering the street. 

Nesting. — The catbird usually chooses low dense thickets, tangles 
of vines, or small bushy trees for its nesting site. Often it is in 
vegetation bordering marshes, streams, or forests. In all cases the 
nest is well concealed by foliage. It is an adaptable species and 
may seek the habitations of man to build in hedgerows or cultivated 
shrubs of the gardens. At Brunswick, Maine, there is a pair that 
builds each year in a mass of shrubbery within a few yards of the 
house where the frequent presence of members of the household 
fails to disturb their normal activities. The catbird is characteristic 
of the country home, and I have vivid memories of a pair that regu- 


larly built in the blackberry briers that bordered our vegetable 
garden of a central-Illinois farm. The old apple orchard was also 
a favorite nesting place of a pair of them. Witmer Stone (1913a) 
writes as follows : "Every old garden has somewhere about it a shady 
thicket of lilacs, mock-orange, or some similar shrubbery in a niche by 
the back porch, perhaps, or behind the greenhouse, or over in the 
corner where the fences come together; and it is with such a spot 
that the Catbird is most closely associated in my mind." 

All the nests I have examined have been placed relatively low, 
ranging from 2 to 6 feet above ground. A. D. DuBois has sent 
us details of 16 nests that he found located in osage-orange hedges, 
willows, a small elm, thorn trees, elderberry, and various bushes and 
shrubs. These nests ranged from 3 to 10 feet above ground. 

In Maine the catbird sometimes resorts to coniferous trees, and I 
have found the nests in low thick spruce and fir trees. R. T. Morris 
(1923) reports a pair of catbirds that built in a pine tree on his 
place at Stamford, Conn. The nest was at an elevation of 20 feet 
above ground. Two broods were reared, but he could not be sure 
the same nest was used for the second brood, as the branches were 
too thick to allow climbing for investigation. Catbirds are not ad- 
verse to wet situations, and some of them have been found nesting 
in cattail marshes and inland swamps. C. R. Stockard (1905) 
states that in the east-central portion of Mississippi he has found 
nests of the catbird in bushes bordering lakes in which the nests 
were suspended over the water. 

As might be expected, individual catbirds may depart from the 
usual nesting sites. M. B. Trautman (1940) studied 35 catbird nests 
in the region of Buckeye Lake, Ohio, of which two were built on the 
ground in spite of the fact other more favorable places were available. 
At the other extreme Pearson and the Brimleys (1919) reported a 
nest located 50 to 60 feet above the level of the ground. W. N. Colton 
(1889) reports finding a catbird's nest in a natural cavity of a dead 
apple tree. The birds had filled up a cavity almost 9 inches deep with 
nesting materials. These nesting sites represent unusual conditions, 
and we should not allow them to confuse our conception of the usual 
nesting site of the catbird. 

The nest has a substantial and bulky foundation of coarse sticks, 
weed stems, grasses, leaves, and twigs. It is rather rough and strag- 
gly-appearing outwardly but neatly lined with skeleton leaves, pine 
needles, fine shreds of bark, and more often with dark fibrous rootlets. 
In the Midwest, nests are sometimes provided with a horsehair lining. 
Some of the nests, especially those built near the habitations of man, 
have in addition to the usual materials bits of paper, cotton, tow, 
strings, and rags. W. L. McAtee (1940a), who analyzed the ma- 
terials used in the construction of 12 catbird nests, reports as follows : 


"Twelve nests were made of the following materials, the frequency 
of use of which is indicated by the numbers in parentheses. Founda- 
tion: coarse weed stalks (11), leaves (7), paper (7), coarse twigs 
(5), red-cedar bark (4), grass (3), chestnut bark (1), and lumps of 
dirt (1). Lining: in each case (12) made exclusively of rootlets." 

Both birds share in the work of carrying sticks to the nest, but the 
female does the major part of the construction and the shaping of 
the structure. If the male finds the female at the nest when he brings 
nesting material, he hands it over to the female for her to manipulate 
into the nest. On the other hand, if the male is at the nest when the 
female arrives, he immediately gives her right-of-way. The male 
accompanies the female on many of her journeys for nesting ma- 
terial, but a considerable portion of his time is taken up by singing and 
defending his territory. 

About 5 or 6 days are required to complete the nest, and in one 
case under observation the first egg was laid during the morning of 
the day after the nest was finished. One egg was added each morning 
thereafter until a set of four was complete. During the first few 
days the female did not incubate continuously but was away from 
the nest at irregular intervals of time. Thereafter she seldom left 
her eggs and was fed on the nest by the male. 

On coming to the nest and settling down on the eggs she shifted 
her body from side to side, working the feathers of the breast and 
belly around the eggs and permitting them to come in direct contact 
with naked aptera to receive the heat from her body needed for in- 
cubation. The nest is usually so deeply cupped that her long tail 
is thrust upward at an angle nearly perpendicular to the axis of her 
body, and likewise the head is generally thrown back. 

Eggs. — The number of eggs per set varies from two to five. R. C. 
Harlow (1918), who examined 110 nests of the catbird in Pennsyl- 
vania and New Jersey, determined the average to be 4 with a varia- 
tion of from 3 to 5. Exceptional sets of 6 eggs have been reported by 
various observers. M. B. Trautman (1940) found a nest at Buckeye 
Lake, Ohio, on June 24, 1927, that contained 6 eggs. Nests with only 
1 or 2 well-incubated eggs have been reported. 

The eggs are a deep glossy greenish blue or bluish green, much 
deeper in tone than those of the robin or wood thrush. They are al- 
most always without markings, but there are a few rare exceptions. 
John Nichols has seen the eggs spotted with red. Sage, Bishop, and 
Bliss (1913) and E. D. Wintle (1883) also reported catbirds as laying 
spotted eggs. 

The measurements of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum 
average 23.3 by 17.5 millimeters ; the eggs showing the four extremes 
measure 26.4 by 17.8, 24.1 by 18.8, 21.3 by 17.8, and 21.8 by 15.8 


Incubation. — Mrs. Helen G. Wliittle (1923) studied a pair of cat- 
birds that built near her home in Peterboro, N. H. She writes : 

The male took no share in incubating, nor did he ever, I think, make any 
attempt to brood the young. If he came to the nest and found the female 
absent, during incubation, he would fidget on a nearby twig in a helpless, wor- 
ried fashion, but apparently never thought of taking her place. * * * Dur- 
ing incubation, the male sang very infrequently within my hearing, and brought 
food to the female so seldom that I wondered how she could survive. There 
was however, evidence that the male of this pair was an inexperienced bird, 
possibly young, and this his first family. 

The female, left to do all the incubating, was very faithful to her task and 
sat patiently day after day through an extremely rainy period, which con- 
tinued with only brief respites, all through June and early July in southern 
New Hampshire. One afternoon there was a severe hailstorm, and the female 
on the nest with feathers drawn close, bill pointing straight up and eyes shut, 
made as good a watershed of herself as possible, while hailstones the size 
of large peas pelted her unmercifully. 

The incubation period of the catbird as reported by various observers 
is 12 or 13 days. 

Young. — Ira N. Gabrielson (1913) describes the details of the 
hatching of the eggs in two catbirds' nests as follows, the observations 
being made by Arthur F. Smith : 

At 4 : 55 a. m. one more egg was pipped, evidently by the old bird, as it was 
chipped inward and directly around the center of the egg. The egg hatched at 
5 : 55 p. m., the young bird forcing the shell open by rolling and plunging gently 
and by some use of the feet and wings